WEST JORDAN — Riverton High School will have a homecoming week unlike any other.
After the emergence of 17 positive cases for COVID-19, the Jordan school board voted in an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the district offices to close the high school Thursday and Friday to allow for deep cleaning.
Under the proposed schedule change, students would not attend class in-person for the remainder of the week, but will continue with online instruction Friday, in accordance with the district’s four-day in-person, one-day online model determined at the start of the school year.
Friday’s home football game against Jordan would continue as scheduled. No extracurricular activities or schedules will be affected.
Students will be allowed in the building if they need to gather instructional materials, the district later clarified.
The board called an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon after the Salt Lake County health department recommended shifting the school to online learning for two weeks in response to 17 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among the student body. Nine of those cases were associated with two unrelated extracurricular activities, superintendent Dr. Anthony Godfrey said.
“I’m willing to see it through for a little bit,” school board president Bryce Dunford said. “To me, what is unique to this circumstance is if we take those nine students out, there are eight cases. I don’t see it as a Riverton problem.
“If it were a Riverton problem, I would have a Riverton solution.”
Of the 17 cases, one is a Riverton High faculty member, KSL TV's Deanie Wimmer reported. Utah is experiencing a new spike in cases, including an increase of 747 cases Wednesday, according to the state health department.
The superintendent and several board members said they believe the Silverwolves and their administration have been following all of the guidelines established by the state board of education, Salt Lake County and Gov. Gary Herbert’s office.
Still, the school was prepared to accept any recommendation offered by the board, Riverton principal Carolyn Gough said in addressing the board via conference call.
“I want to reassure you that we have followed all of the protocols in the reopening plan as they’ve been outlined. Some things are just beyond our control,” Gough said. “We are prepared to act in accordance with whatever decision the board outlines.
“We knew that this was a possibility, and we will postpone or reschedule our activities and events as needed. But our primary concern is the health and safety of our students and faculty.”
The motion was the second of the night; closing school Thursday and Friday, and reopening next week on an alternating-day hybrid schedule was opposed by a vote of 4-3.
That led to a motion to cancel in-person classes Thursday and Friday for deep cleaning, followed by normal school hours Monday while watching carefully to see if the trend of positive cases increases, decreases or remains the same.
In accordance with a previously discussed district policy, Thursday would be a compensation day void of instruction, while Friday would include online instruction for students in accordance with the district’s four-day in-person, one-day online model.
That motion passed by a vote of 6-1. The board will further evaluate the situation at Riverton in a previously scheduled board meeting on Tuesday.
Close to 1,700 students have been quarantined or put in isolation in the district since school began, board members estimated.
The motion to slightly modify the schedule came a day after Corner Canyon confirmed 21 positive cases of COVID-19 associated with the high school over the past 14 days. The Chargers have moved to a modified schedule of alternating A-B schedules with half the student body attending in-person classes after taking Tuesday off.
That option drew intense scrutiny during a 15-minute public comment segment, however. Several parents pleaded with board members to not shut down the schools.
One student who plays for the Silverwolves’ girls soccer team argued for a continuation of normal — or semi-normal — activities such as school sports for the sake of the students’ mental health.
“We chose to come to school,” said student Dylan Gorringe, who recently came off a school-mandated isolation due to contact tracing. “We knew the risk. Why would we quarantine people or cancel school when none of us are at risk?
“I think we need to start listening to the kids, and those whose lives are being affected.”
Several parents said they believe that pushing classes online for two weeks or more would significantly disrupt their child’s learning.
Other adults in the small, socially distanced crowd drew a consensus, while some even responded with applause. One included state senator Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who thanked the board for doing the job that “none of us signed up for” while urging them to keep the school open.
“This is not an easy decision, and other schools and other school districts will be looking to handle things the way you are,” McCay said. “I would encourage our school districts to be counseling together as best as they can.”
But McCay implored the district to remain “conservative” in closing schools that have already reopened.
“The health department is not going to shut you down,” he added. “I dare them.”
That community response had an impact on several board members, several admitted.
“I love this community. And they’re not always the most vocal,” Dunford said. “We don’t hear from Riverton as much as we hear from other communities. We heard from them in the past three hours since this meeting was called, and I think that’s indicative of the passion involved in this issue.”
Contributing: Deanie Wimmer, KSL TV