Salt Lake City students return to school with mask mandate, later start times

Aug 24, 2021, 4:23 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — A new school year began Tuesday for students in the Salt Lake City School District – with a new superintendent at the helm, a mask mandate and a later start time for high school students.

Dr. Timothy Gadson visited with students at various schools to welcome them to the first day of classes.

In his new role, he’s navigating COVID-19 protocols, and trying to reassure parents their children are safe to return to in-person school.

He made stops at Glendale Middle School and Mountain View Elementary before eating lunch with students at East High School.

All K-12 students are required to wear masks in certain situations under an emergency order issued last week by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.

“The mayor is concerned about our students,” Gadson said. “As you can see students are here to learn with their masks on.”

Students must wear masks while riding a bus, attending a school-sponsored activity or outdoors on school property when social distancing isn’t possible.

Administrators encouraged those age 12 and older, who are eligible, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Gadson said these measures will help parents feel good about bringing their students back to in-person learning.

“We believe in masks,” he said. “And we believe in science around masks as a mitigation measure to keep students healthy.”

As he steps into his new position, Gadson said he’s committed to helping students close the COVID-19 learning gap.

“Really looking at expanding mental health support for our students because we’re still in the pandemic,” he said.

Later start time for high schools

One way Gadson believes students can improve their mental health is by starting school a little bit later.

All high schools in the district started their school year with a later start time at 8:45 a.m. – a first for the district.

After years of debate, the Salt Lake City Board of Education voted to push back start times for high schools.

Board members cited research that shows teenagers benefit from sleep and perform much better in the classroom.

Administrators looked at studies done on high schools with later start times.

After the pandemic, attendance and the overall well-being of students improved dramatically.

“Science says that they learn or are alert and ready to learn later in the day,” Gadson said. “We’ll study it and see how it impacts student achievement and what our students need to do.”

High schoolers are let out of school at 3:15 p.m. Administrators worried pushing classes too far into the evening would make it difficult for those students with afterschool jobs or sports. They believe this is the best balance.

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Salt Lake City students return to school with mask mandate, later start times