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Timpview High Student Makes Case For Less In-Person Learning

PROVO, Utah – With COVID-19 cases soaring in Utah and several new orders in place from the governor aimed at curbing the spread, a Timpview High School student is making the case for his school not to move to four days of in-person instruction per week.

On Monday, Timpview and other secondary schools in the Provo City School District moved to “Phase 2” of the district’s 2020 Return to School plan.

Under Phase 2, all students attend Monday through Thursday under early dismissal schedules.

Previously, students had been attending two days per week to reduce the numbers inside schools and classrooms on any given day.

“I was not asked my opinion, nor were any of my classmates,” said Timpview senior Connor Biser. “I figured that I should make my voice heard in whatever capacity I can.”

Biser penned an open letter to his school, the district and his community raising his concerns about the move to Phase 2, which he said should have been delayed until at least the end of the semester.

“This doubles the number of kids in our school at a time, doubles the time spent in school and reduces the amount of space between kids in class,” Biser wrote. “By exponentially increasing the risk of infection in our school at this moment, we will also increase the risk of infection for every single member of our community. Our high school may be a hub from which COVID-19 will spread to our homes, churches and businesses, and the ultimate cost will be Utahns’ lives.”

Biser is among several voices recently calling for less in-person school, albeit in varying forms.

Last week, the Utah Education Association pleaded for Gov. Gary Herbert to shift all public secondary schools in areas of high COVID-19 transmission to at-home learning from roughly Thanksgiving through winter break, or until cases decline significantly.

“We can’t expect to do the same things and expect the virus to go down and expect things to change,” UEA President Heidi Matthews said Friday.

If the governor declined to make such changes, the group called on individual school boards to take action.

The governor announced new orders on Sunday, which included a two-week pause for extracurricular activities and sports, excluding teams currently involved in state playoffs and championships.

Provo City School District spokesman Caleb Price said the district has heard concerns like those echoed by Biser and regularly evaluates the current pandemic landscape in cooperation with health department officials.

He said decisions have been numbers-based and in accordance with established state guidelines.

“Regardless of the phase our district is in or that our schools are in, if a school hits those thresholds the board will look at moving back to Phase 1 or online as needed, but the numbers in our schools will really drive that and determine that decision,” Price said.

Price said families are encouraged to work through options with individual school administrators.

Biser said the recent change at his school and around the district to four days of in-person learning simply happened too soon and he said he wouldn’t be surprised if numbers in the near future force the district’s hand to reverse course.

“From what I understand, we’re already in a bad place in terms of case counts,” Biser said. “Whether they listen to me or not, I don’t think that it’s going to last terribly long.”

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