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Group Of Students Pushes Salt Lake City School District To Stay Online

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — With the Salt Lake City School District and its board already delaying a return to in-person learning for junior highs and high schools to an undetermined time beyond early February, a small group of students hoped their voices might help convince the district to keep instruction online even further into the future.

Salt Lake City School District Online, comprised mostly of students from Highland and West high schools, circulated a letter pushing for a return to in-person instruction after the COVID-19 vaccine is more widely available and distributed throughout the community.

“I want to state that I am deeply concerned about going back to school, as well as how this situation has been handled by lawmakers and the school district itself,” stated the letter, which was signed by group member and Highland High School student Malia Hansen. “I value my health and safety, my teacher’s health and safety, my family’s health and safety, and the community’s health and safety.”

The letter called on the board to be more transparent while urging lawmakers not to interfere.

“I ask that you please just wait to reopen until it is genuinely safe, when lives are not on the line,” the letter ended.

Salt Lake City School District is the lone district in Utah not to have some form of in-person instruction so far this school year. Last week, the district elected to wait until teachers were vaccinated before reopening junior highs and high schools despite growing pressure from lawmakers and parents.

“Students in Salt Lake should not be left behind,” Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said last week. “I am disappointed by the position taken by the Salt Lake City School District Board, who seem ready to accept their students falling significantly behind their counterparts in surrounding districts.”

Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he hoped students could get back to school and teachers could receive a $1,500 stipend extended by the state to educators who have offered in-person learning or a combination of in-person and remote instruction during the pandemic.

It remained unclear when the district might move to in-person instruction.

District spokesperson Yandary Chatwin said the board was next scheduled to meet on Jan. 19 and may discuss in-person options for secondary schools then.

“To go back in person would not only be risking my own life but also my grandmother’s life,” said Hansen, who noted she helped care for her grandmother since she lives alone.

West High School student Taisei Summerhays also spoke of the potential danger of bringing students back to their brick-and-mortar schools.

“If there’s any chance of that sort of becoming a super-spreader event, that will just accelerate and prolong the pandemic we are currently suffering through,” Summerhays said during an interview via Zoom that included a half-dozen SLCSD Online group members Tuesday evening.

West High student Edward Sanderson said his interest in returning to in-person learning hinged on widespread vaccine distribution.

“If that happens really soon, that’s great—I’d love to return to school,” Sanderson said. “If that takes a lot longer like they’re projecting, then I’m just simply not comfortable going until I know that at least most people have had the vaccine to the point that it’s safer to be in groups.”

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