Spike In COVID-19 Cases Fuels Debate Over Switch To Online Learning

Nov 10, 2020, 11:44 PM | Updated: 11:46 pm

WEST JORDAN, Utah – Teachers and districts pushed back Tuesday against the Utah Education Association’s call to move secondary schools in high transmission areas to online learning.

“I’ve been teaching for 15 years, and I have to say this is the most challenging,” said David Johnson, a high school teacher in the Jordan School District.

It’s the summary you might expect for a school year that has so far been full of change, including quarantines, online work, face masks and social distancing.

“Pretty weird, but it’s good,” said Brennan Leonard, a senior at Bingham High School in the Jordan School District.

Leonard said he understands the concern with the current trend of COVID-19 in the state. But he was disappointed with Gov. Gary Herbert’s executive order that went into effect Monday, cutting out extracurricular activities and gatherings outside of your household.

“The governor was almost like grounding us,” he said. “Like he was saying we have to get our numbers down before we can go see people again.”

“If it’s what we have to do to lower the number of people in the hospitals I’m all for it,” Johnson said of the executive order.

But most of all, Johnson was relieved the order did not impact in-person learning.

“We want to be in class. We want to be with our students,” he said. “As long as they’re in school, that’s 7.5 or eight hours a day where they are being required to follow those recommendations where they’re not spreading the virus.”

But the president of the Utah Education Association said Johnson’s view only represents a part of what they’re hearing from teachers across the state.

“Every day my inbox is filled with members and leaders and educators from across the state saying, ‘Please help us. This workload is not sustainable. We cannot keep up this pace,’” said Heidi Matthews, UEA president.

That is the sort of feedback that prompted Matthews to call on the governor and local school boards to move secondary schools in areas with high transmission to online learning.

“It’s so incredibly difficult for our students to be learning this way and for us to be working this way,” she said. “What we are trying to do is bring people together to fight this very difficult problem.”

But on Tuesday, some school districts pushed back.

“We appreciate and we’ve listened to their plea as a UEA,” said Kimberly Bird, assistant to the superintendent at Alpine School District. “However, we don’t think it represents our overall direction.

“Teachers are essential workers for the success of our societies. We’ve got to have kids in school and doing consistent ways of learning.”

On Tuesday, the Jordan School District Board of Education met for a regular meeting. Online learning was on the agenda, but board president Bryce Dunford noted, “We’re going to fight to keep students in the school as much as we possibly can.”

By the end of the night, the Jordan School District had called for an emergency meeting on Wednesday to specifically discuss the future of seven middle schools and three high schools, some of which reportedly have 20 to 25% of students and staff quarantined.

The district has 441 COVID-19 cases, according to its online dashboard and 2,856 people quarantined.

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Spike In COVID-19 Cases Fuels Debate Over Switch To Online Learning