SALT LAKE CITY — As numbers of COVID-19 cases tick up, schools along the Wasatch Front are implementing large-scale but temporary schedule changes intended to mitigate spread of coronavirus, but also to help teachers struggling with teeming workloads and, in one, case, give elementary students more face-to-face time with teachers.
Davis School District
Elementary students in Davis County schools will return to school four days a week starting Monday but secondary students will remain on a hybrid schedule until Nov. 2, when they too will return to in-school learning four days a week.
The school board voted 6-1 Wednesday to amend an earlier board decision under which all students would have returned to in-person learning four days a week by Oct. 5. Board President John Robison cast the lone “no” vote.
Board member Liz Mumford said she felt strongly that the district should provide as much access to school as possible, particularly when there are relatively few cases of COVID-19 among elementary school-age children and more in secondary school populations.
“We’re keeping 35,000 (elementary) kids out of school 60% of the time because of 11 cases over the time period that’s on the dashboard, so I think that’s a really big factor,” she said.
But board member Gordon Eckersley said he supported extending the current hybrid model “and keeping everybody safer for a while longer until we can see, have a better idea of what’s happening in our schools.”
Earlier this month, the board voted unanimously to transition from a hybrid schedule in which students have attended school in-person two days a week, to four days of face-to-face instruction each week beginning next Monday. Junior high and high school students were to make a similar transition starting Oct. 5.
The board also agreed Wednesday to retain “Phase 2” of its plan, which envisions a return to a five-day-a-week in-person school schedule on Jan. 20, 2021.
Prior to the vote, parents and teachers addressed the board, some of whom urged members to maintain the hybrid schedule and others who wanted children to return to school at least four days a week.
Raul Sanchez, a third-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, urged the school board to maintain a hybrid schedule because it allows his students to social distance and enables him to give students individualized attention.
“There’s more time for me to practice social-emotional learning, and more time for one-on-one attention for the students who fall through the cracks because of the circumstances within the cycle of poverty,” Sanchez said.
But Brandi McFarland, a mother of two elementary school-age children and a 1-year-old, urged the board to allow students to return to school four days a week, hopefully ramping up to five days.
“My kids are failing on hybrid. We are doing everything we possibly can in my house as working parents to keep them up to level but hybrid is failing them,” she said.
McFarland said there’s “a good reason teachers go to college, get certifications and have continuous training. They know the best way to teach our kids. How am I to give them that appropriate education? I don’t have the resources and techniques, let alone the time.”
Some board members said the district’s hybrid schedule has likely helped to curb new cases of COVID-19, but others like board member Julie Tanner said a hybrid schedule could be construed as a form of quarantine, too.
Student board member Sophia Leavitt, who is in high school, said the board’s earlier plan to end the hybrid schedule was disruptive because teachers, students and parents had been told the schedule would remain in place until Christmas break.
Leavitt said some of her classes under the hybrid model have 35-40 students.
“I can only imagine what the sizes of the class would be if we return to four days a week,” she said.
Canyons District pivot
Starting Oct. 5, Canyons School District will transition to four days of classroom learning with Fridays reserved for remote or independent learning. The change will affect students K-12. The change means there will be no early dismissal or late-start days.
The district school board adopted the change Tuesday in the face of rising COVID-19 case counts in the communities served by the Canyons District and worrisome levels of exhaustion and burnout among teachers who are struggling to teach changing rosters of students in person, online and those in quarantine. In some schools, a quarter of students have been quarantined.
Draper Elementary School Principal Christy Waddell, in a statement, said teachers are “already overwhelmed trying to help students catch up for the missed instructional time from last year.”
The calendar change is temporary and district administrators will give a status report to the school board before winter recess.
Meanwhile, Corner Canyon High School teacher Charri Jensen, who has been hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, is improving, her daughter Talesha Jensen said Wednesday.
“We were able to FaceTime her and she gave us a little wave and she was smiley. She’s definitely waking up more and more,” Talesha Jensen said. Jensen remains on a ventilator, her daughter said.
“She is still really, really weak and it will be a long road but she’s improving,” Jensen wrote.
Granite School District
In Granite School District, Granger and Olympus high schools will each pivot from in-person learning to distance learning for two weeks starting Thursday.
Each school has confirmed 15 cases of COVID-19 within the past two weeks. The school district is following the Salt Lake County Health Department’s recommendations to close the school for deep cleaning and move instruction online.
The buildings will be closed Thursday and Friday, after which teachers will work from their classrooms to provide distance education during the dismissal.
Extracurricular activities and sporting events will proceed with limitations on spectators. No sports teams at either school have three or more cases of COVID-19, said district spokesman Ben Horsley.
Not only does the school district have a responsibility to operate safe and healthy schools, it also must ensure the public health of communities where it operates schools, Horsley said.
Unlike other school districts that have implemented their own thresholds of 1% or 2% of cases in a school population triggering certain mitigation procedures, Horsley said Granite District has no plans to deviate from state health department recommendations.
“They’ve (public health officials) told us when you have 15 confirmed cases, you likely actually have 40 to 50 more that are asymptomatic and still spreading the disease within your building,” Horsley said.
“It makes perfect sense to us. We don’t consider it a mysterious or magical number. We consider it good science. We feel comfortable with the recommendation. We’re not seeking to alter it or adjust it, and we plan to adhere to it.”
Alpine School District
Starting Monday, Alpine District’s Lone Peak, Orem and American Fork high schools will also shift to a hybrid school schedule due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
The schools will be closed to students on Friday, so teachers can prepare for the new, temporary schedule expected to last two weeks.
District officials said Pleasant Grove’s case count held firm after they implemented the hybrid model, so it appears to be working.