Salt Lake school board postpones start date to September 8, delays vote on reopening plan


SALT LAKE CITY – Noting that parents and constituents in Salt Lake are divided over the best back-to-school plan, the Salt Lake school board deferred voting on a proposal that calls for e-learning for the first term ending October 30, students starting the school year after Labor Day.The council voted on Tuesday to begin the student school year on September 8, but deferred a decision on how education will be delivered until a future meeting.

Acting Superintendent Larry Madden clarified that if the board agreed to run the school online initially, schools in the district could participate in sports and activities sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association.

Discussion and board approval of state-required insurance to reopen schools for in-person instruction comes after Governor Gary Herbert announced last week of a change in state guidelines on color-coded coronaviruses that allow schools to open. The insurance model addresses issues such as “improving environmental health and safety”, monitoring incidents, and how a district would shut down if necessary due to an outbreak. , among others.

The Utah State Board of Education does not approve local plans to reopen.

Madden said the pandemic has posed “the most unusual situation” for the school district and the board.

“There are a lot of strong emotions. I’m concerned that some of our constituents, people they may not have been heard from, and I want everyone to know that we are hearing you and I understand that. Whatever decision we make, we want you to be able to attend the school of your choice and receive the best possible education. We want your children to return fully to schools in the Salt Lake City School District. I hope we’re all in the same boat, ”Madden said.

Some members of the council spoke in favor of the plan proposed by Madden.

Samuel Hanson, a board member, said the plan was guided by science, compassion and concern for human life. “I think this is the right way to move forward,” Hanson said.

But others have argued that based on hundreds of emails and other comments, parents and educators are divided over the best course to start the school year safely and successfully.

“I don’t think we’ve spent enough time engaging with our community or teachers, board stakeholders on how we’re going to do this and how we’re going to do it well,” said the board chair, Melissa Ford. .

The plan called for teachers to report for work in mid-August and spend early in the school year meeting with parents and students in small groups, performing assessments to determine how to fill learning gaps resulting from the “soft closure” of schools last spring. , and ensuring that all students have access to electronic devices and the Internet so that they can fully participate in online education.

Board member Kristi Swett said if the district is considering relying on distance learning it “shouldn’t be on anyone other than this district’s back.”

I don’t think we’ve spent enough time engaging with our community or the teachers, the board stakeholders about how we’re going to do this and how we’re going to do it well.

–Salt Lake City School District Board Chair Melissa Ford

But others have supported a return to class.

“A recent BYU study indicated that masks do the job. We can prepare and protect our children if we send them to school, ”said Mike Nemelka, board member.

The new BYU analysis of more than 115 studies has determined that face masks are a powerful tool in stopping the novel coronavirus and controlling COVID-19.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at BYU’s College of Life Sciences, did not specifically address the use of masks in school. He discovered that the masks could speed up economic recovery after the pandemic. He also noted the importance of physical distance, frequent hand washing, rapid testing and coordinated contact tracing to stem the spread of the virus.

Board member Michelle Tuitupou said parents need options. “That’s what they’re asking for,” she said. Tuitupou said she was concerned that families would enroll their children in neighboring districts that offer options.

Nemelka, meanwhile, said many parents have told him they will look to enroll their children in charter schools if the district does not resume in-person learning this fall.

Others urged the council to exercise caution.

Board member Katherine Kennedy said constituents in her school board and teachers who have contacted her largely support distance learning.

“I think it’s a dangerous and scary disease. I don’t think we know enough about this disease and I think we should be aware of it, ”she said.

The next scheduled board meeting is August 4, but he voted to add another meeting on August 11.

In the meantime, Ms. Ford said she wanted the district to develop a forum where parents, educators and other clients can talk to the council about their preferences and concerns.

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