Salt Lake City Schools will only start online this fall, with plans to return in person ‘as soon as it’s safe’


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The move, approved by the district’s board of education on Thursday, is a response to high coronovirus infections that are plaguing Utah’s capital. After more than two hours of discussion, members decided that keeping the children at home for at least the first month is less of a risk.

“It’s important to bring our children back to classrooms,” said Melissa Ford, board president at the virtual meeting. “And we intend to do it along with keeping it safe.”

The decision came at a much sharper meeting last week than the chaos that colored the board’s debate on the subject, which then ended with a deadlock. One member, however, Michael Nemelka voted Thursday against the plan in a 6–1 roll call. And, this time his camera goes off, saying he will continue to believe that teachers who want to continue distance education are “lazy”.

Ford and others pushed back against that comment.

The city schools will now start online on 8 September under a two-week delay to give teachers, parents and students time to prepare. The district intends to monitor cases of the virus when a return to class can take place safely. Any reopening shall be combined with the midway mark or the end of the quarter to not disrupt sections and grading. The first quarter ended on October 30.

In return order, Interim Superintendent Larry Madden said the district is looking at two benchmarks. The positivity rate in more and more counties, he said, would require 5% of those tested. Currently, it is 9.32%. The district is also seeing cases per 100,000 people. To reopen, it needs to be below 10. Right now, it is at 17.9.

“We want to start the year cautiously,” Madden said during a news conference after the meeting. “Our goal is to maintain a balance between the health and safety of our students and their education.”

The board’s 13-page plan also describes how hybrid or in-person returns will look like when it is possible to return.

Even with online classes, however, sports will be allowed to resume in the district. And people who need extra help can schedule face-to-face meetings with their teachers or counselors.

Now, all teachers have been trained on the best methods to teach remotely. And all materials are centralized on a district’s website so that families do not have to explore multiple platforms. Additionally, the school district has purchased more than 6,000 laptops for those who do not have access to a computer at home, and is working to ensure that all students have Internet connections – the major equity in the remainder online One of the issues.

About 1,500 parents and teachers watched the discussion on Thursday. When the decision was announced to continue virtually, the comments section was “What a relief!” And thanks! “And” Well done! “

The Salt Lake City School District has been a focal point for the state when it comes to reopening schools. The district is the only region that lives in an area – in the capital city – still deemed “orange” or at moderate risk for coronavirus outbreaks. Under that condition, classes must be conducted remotely.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) July 15, 2020, for parents and students returning to school this fall within the Salt Lake City School District Rally for K-12 students.
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) July 15, 2020, for parents and students returning to school this fall within the Salt Lake City School District Rally for K-12 students.

Madden said he has appreciated the response from both sides and has helped describe the district as “the hardest possible decision”.

Most of the board supported the plan. Member Nate Salzar said he loves that it is “rooted in science.” Member Catherine Kennedy said that most of the constituents she listened to were in favor.

Others asked questions about how the district would specifically help the most vulnerable students and joined the vote for the plan when they heard the response. District Executive Director of Educational Equity and Student Assistance Sandra Bundia assured that children who are learning English, have disabilities, are refugees, or will just focus on the need for a safe place. The district will send staff to each of its homes, particularly those that are hard to reach, to ensure that students have what is needed to start classes.

All students and parents will have the option to visit their teachers in two weeks before the start of school. And they can use that time to advocate their needs. The district will additionally assess each child who can see who may fall after spring and use more attention, Bundia said.

Breakfast and lunch programs will continue, as well as for families.

At one point during the discussion, member Michelle Tutupu asked: “How will you work with working parents?” And Nemelka, the board member who called the teachers “lazy”, laughed.

Last week, during a board debate, he played the role of Tyagi on a second computer screen that could be seen on the livestream, and many residents were upset. This week, when it was his turn to speak, he announced that he would not turn on his camera because of it. “That’s why you don’t have a picture of me anymore,” he said.

A retired teacher, Nemelka continued, saying that he did not understand why the teacher was unwilling to go back to class. He compared them to firemen and doctors and grocery store employees who have worked during the epidemic “despite the danger”.

“They have courage and we applaud them for this. So why don’t some teachers want to take their place in front of the class? ” He asked. “Those teachers who are afraid of the life you live, you need to keep an eye on yourself.”

He said that in-person instruction is the most important part of the job. “I still believe that online learning is a lazy way to teach K-12,” he said.

As he spoke, some comments called for him to step down. Nemelka’s seat is up for election this year, with one man Jenny Sika running against him.

Ford began the meeting on Thursday, saying that how the board’s discussion last week was not justified, largely indicated concerns with Nemelka, as well as Kennedy insisting on ending the debate at 6 pm because his There were other plans. Students should be the board’s priority, Ford said.

“Last week, other priorities and personal concerns took away from that focus,” she said. “These kinds of disruptions have no place in the board meeting.”

At the moment, she said, the top concern is keeping students safe. While many people prefer in-person teaching and see that as a more effective way for children to learn, Ford said, it is very dangerous under the prevailing conditions in the city.

But the district is still preparing when it can be safe to open by adjusting air systems in schools, installing sanitation stations on playgrounds and imposing plexiglass barriers. Because the withdrawal, Ford said, is the goal.

The school’s plan states: “It is not in the interest of our students or families to move indefinitely with only one remote option, nor is it our intention.”

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