Jordan School District pushes forward with 4-day in-person school week, but delays start by a week

By Sean Walker, | Posted - Jul. 28, 2020 at 9:30 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Jordan School District is going back to school.

It will just be a week later than originally anticipated.

After 22 days of feedback and dialogue — and countless hours of discussion among board members and experts in the field of public health and education, board members voted to move forward with the previously discussed plan of a four-day in-person school week, but delayed it by one week.

The motion to carry the original proposal was denied by a vote of 5-2. In its place, the board voted to approve a plan that would bring students back for a four-day weekly schedule with Fridays reserved for online instruction — but also delayed by one week to allow teachers, faculty and staff to better prepare for the upcoming school year.

Teachers would still be required to be in the classroom on Aug. 17, the originally scheduled first day of school. But students won’t join them until Aug. 24.

The plan was not adopted unanimously. That plan failed to address the concerns of the majority of public commenters, which was social distancing, said board member Marilyn Richards, who dissented.

“Our highest priority was safety and well-being,” Richards said. “How are we addressing that? We’re not.”

The board also voted to eliminate a $500 fee, and to use CARES Act funds allocated to the district to hire a teachers' aide for every school. The deadline for allowing parents and students to register for in-person or online classes was kept at Friday, Aug. 1, but the district will keep open possible exceptions for the deadline on a case-by-case basis.

"People need to understand we need a commitment soon so that we can get staffing and everything ready," board member Darrell Robinson said.

Board members met for more than five hours in open sessions, and continued late into the night to ask and answer questions from dozens of community members, including many that addressed the board prior to the vote. Several teachers and staff members from around the district also protested outside the board meeting, wearing red, and some holding signs calling for the board to delay reopening their schools until the number of cases of COVID-19 can be easier managed.

The district will set up a website to solicit additional public feedback and answer questions. They also stayed until nearly 10 p.m. to answer questions and voice discussion around several topics, with a live stream audience that swelled to more than 1,500 viewers at one point.

Another motion opted for a delayed start, starting school on Aug. 24 with a “hard restart” of full, in-person classes after four weeks to resume the previously scheduled four-day weekly schedule. Prior to the full restart, schools would send students to class on an A-B alternating schedule with Fridays reserved for online instruction, similar to the plan announced by the Davis School District earlier Tuesday.

With either delayed-start option, the board will seek a waiver from the state board of education for up to five teacher workdays during the school year. If the waiver is not granted, they will have to make up those five days of coursework, either in-class or online.

District cafeteria workers will provide a grab-and-go lunch for students on free-lunch waiver during the delayed week of school.

Board members also voted to allow students to change their in-person or online schooling option mid-semester.

“We have never done this before. No one has ever opened up schools after a pandemic,” school board president Bryce Dunford said at the start of the meeting that lasted well over five hours. “We don’t know what all the right answers are, and there is a plethora of opinions as to what they are.

“We are here tonight to do our very best. Will we make adjustments? Of course we will. We will get some things right? Yes. Will we get some things wrong? Yes, we will.

“But we all care about the people we represent.”

The district will offer an at-home option of online schooling for parents and students who do not feel comfortable returning to the classroom.

Not everyone felt that the district’s original plan was in error. Many felt that it was grounded in good intentions and well-meaning scientific evidence — even as that evidence can seem to change hourly in the throes of a wide-ranging pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

“I’m super lucky to be able to sit at home, teach my kids, and make it work,” said Rachel Gillespie, a parent in the district, during the public comment segment. “But I also recognize there are a lot of children that are marginalized and will continue to be marginalized if they are not at school. These are children in my kids’ classes; I’ve met their parents. They are working more than full-time, and they don’t have computers or Wifi.”

Still others felt that the plan didn’t go far enough. Some argued that the district was reopening too soon, as community members reiterated a statement by the Utah Education Association earlier in the day. Others believed the current plan, with students in each class every day but Friday, would not allow for adequate hygiene and social distancing to be practiced.

“I note that we are practicing a 6-foot social distancing in this setting,” said Michael Stone, a father of three and social studies teacher at Herriman High. “I feel it would be incongruous for us to ask our students to accept a lower standard than what we are willing to embrace.”

The board will meet again Aug. 11.

Contributing: Ashley Moser, KSL TV

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