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Parents In SLC School District Receive Letters They Say Discourage In-Person Learning

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The dust hasn’t quite settled over the debate to allow students in the Salt Lake City School District to return to the classroom.

On Tuesday, the board of education voted on a soft return – with students having the option of in-person learning two days a week beginning Feb. 8.

After that decision, though, parents in the district said they received letters from teachers that left them confused. One such email warned students that if they chose to come back to class, learning would still be online and they would receive limited help from the teacher.

“If you choose to come to class, you will need your computer, charger and earbuds/headset,” one letter reads. “The noise feedback as a result of several students in one room working in groups on Zoom can be difficult, so be prepared for the first few days to be a learning curve. We will continue doing school work on Canvas and Zoom only. If I can’t do it on Zoom and Canvas I won’t don’t do it.”

Another teacher wrote to express concerns that she won’t be vaccinated by the school start date, and she cares for a relative who is high-risk.

“I just feel like it’s so misleading,” said parent Emily Snow. “These parents are so excited to send their kids back.”

Elisabeth Theurer is another parent who received a letter from a teacher at East High School.

“It’s almost saying you have no choice because … your parents got what they wanted, but I don’t really want you in class,” she said.

Parent Emily Bell McCormick said the letters indicate the format for learning won’t be any different than it is at home, and there will be no special in-classroom teaching opportunities.

“It basically makes it very tough for students,” she said.

Despite the school board’s decision earlier this week, a group of parents is moving ahead with a lawsuit against the district to stop online learning. The judge hearing the case said he will issue a written ruling as soon as he can.

McCormick said she has submitted the emails to the judge.

The emails were sent by a few teachers at East High School. Principal Greg Maughan sent a follow-up email to students and parents about what spurred the teachers’ letters.

His response read in part:

Teachers have been receiving requests about what their in-person classrooms will look like. Yesterday, in an effort to be responsive, some teachers responded with a form letter to try and provide some answers. I want to communicate clearly that these emails should not have been sent. We are still working out details between the high schools and district leadership of what in-person options may look like. We are also in the process of surveying our families to determine how many students will return to in-person learning and for which classes. This information is key to helping us determine what final plans will look like.

Regardless of whether a student chooses to learn in person or remotely, our goal is to be supportive of our students and their learning needs. Students in both learning modes will have opportunities to engage meaningfully with both their teachers and their classmates.

“The whole thing has been really emotional,” parent Mary Catherine Perry said. “I think these teachers are reacting with a lot of fear and frustration and anger, and they don’t know quite where to direct (it) – because it’s at board members, it’s at the district, it’s at parents.”

“Unfortunately, our students are getting the brunt of that,” she added. “They’re the ones that we should be protecting.”

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