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John Wilson, KSL TV, File

Utah’s State School Board considers more rule waivers to address school dismissals necessitated by pandemic

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Apr. 4, 2020 at 7:31 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — From teacher evaluations to the civics test high school seniors must pass to earn their diplomas, the Utah State Board of Education on Thursday addressed numerous issues affected by the ongoing school dismissal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board granted waivers related to educator licensure and teacher evaluations.

Teachers whose licenses are set to expire June 30 will have until Dec. 31 to renew them. The centers that conduct background checks of educators are closed, which means teachers are unable to complete those requirements on time.

The board also granted school districts and charter schools a waiver of a board rule that requires them to observe teachers and others as part of their annual evaluations because schools are currently on soft closure.

The waiver of the observation requirement also means new teachers who are moving from an associate license to a professional license will be able to meet the requirements for their license upgrade.

In all, the board granted six waivers of rules related to licensure requirements.

But some of the pressing issues before the board are statutory and will require action by the Utah Legislature.

Seniors civics test

For instance, the state law requires high school seniors to pass a civics test to earn their high school diploma.

The State School Board agreed to ask lawmakers to allow the board to grant a student a waiver when the senior or his or her school has demonstrated the student’s inability to access the basic civics test this school year.

Some board members said graduating seniors have been aware of the requirement throughout their high school years and it shouldn’t be subject to waiver at this juncture.

The requirement has been in place since 2015, when Utah lawmakers voted to require public high school students to pass a 50-question basic civics test before graduating. The bill’s sponsor, former Sen. Howard Stephenson, argued that students would be filled with a “sense of pride” to face the same questions that immigrants and refugees encounter on their citizenship test.

Board member Scott Hansen opposed waiving the requirement.

“I think that our waivers should be restricted to things that become impossible because of the current situation. I think this one is very possible. I would hope that school counselors and others who are monitoring graduation requirements can help all of our students have some sort of access to the civics test,” he said.

Board member Carol Lear said some students don’t have access to technology that would enable them to take the test if it hasn’t been offered to them in the past. “I just want to make sure there’s a way for that to be waived,” she said.

Other issues

Other issues that will require legislative help include teacher evaluation requirements, school district and charter school budget deadlines, and the state’s funding distribution formula changes related to average daily membership.

The board will also need the legislature to address requirements for notification and public hearing deadlines and requirements related proposed property tax increases.

State Deputy Superintendent of Operations Scott Jones said many of the requests are needed to give schools flexibility to comply with state law during the pandemic.

“Not knowing what is going to happen, we’re just really making sure that we still maintain compliance but then also that we’re allowing our LEAs (local educational agencies) to adapt depending on the timing or what decisions are made regarding state Fiscal Year ’21 appropriation of funds. They’ll still meet the requirements but they may need to meet them on a different timeline. That’s really all we’re seeking, that understanding, that flexibility,” Jones said.

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