Amid pressure, Salt Lake middle, high schoolers could be back in classrooms by Feb. 8

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Amid pressure, Salt Lake middle, high schoolers could be back in classrooms by Feb. 8

By Marjorie Cortez, Deseret News | Updated - Dec. 18, 2020 at 10:08 p.m. | Posted - Dec. 18, 2020 at 9:43 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Middle and high school students in Salt Lake City could be back in classrooms by Feb. 8 under a proposal the interim superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District announced Friday evening.

Interim Superintendent Larry Madden will propose an in-person learning option for secondary students to the district school board on Jan. 5. The announcement comes after mounting pressure by parents — including a group of parents that filed a lawsuit — and state lawmakers.

In November, the school board approved a plan to offer an in-person learning option for elementary school students, with students returning to school in phases starting in January 2021. The district plans to continue to offer an online option.

"The board of education has always expressed a desire to bring our students back into the classroom as soon as we could safely provide that option. They've been committed to making data-driven decisions and to taking new information about COVID-19 into account as we learn about it. That's why they voted in November to begin offering an in-person learning option for elementary school students starting the week of Jan. 25, because the latest COVID data showed us it made sense to do so," Madden said in a statement.

More details will be released at the Jan. 5 meeting.

Madden said Salt Lake educators and frontline school employees are scheduled to receive COVID-19 vaccines Jan. 8 and 9, which makes him feel safe recommending to the board an in-person learning option for the district's secondary students starting Feb. 8.

"This timeline provides our secondary educators enough time to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second dose will be administered on Jan. 29 and 30, which means a start date of Feb. 8 gives our educators and employees the additional seven days needed for the vaccine to reach its full efficacy. Coupled with COVID precautions inside our buildings to keep our students safe during in-person learning, the vaccine provides us one more tool to provide a quality education to our students, whether in person or online," he said.

Families who want their middle and high school students to continue learning remotely will be able to do so.

The Salt Lake City School District has conducted school by remote learning since the start of the school year, which was a decision of the Salt Lake City Board of Education. It was the only school district in Utah to select that option in the face of the pandemic.

There has been growing pressure to offer families the option of in-person learning after reports that some 4,000 middle schoolers and high schoolers received at least one F grade or incomplete grade in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year.

Earlier this week, a group of Salt Lake parents filed a civil rights lawsuit demanding the option of in-person learning for their children.

The school district encountered additional pressure from state lawmakers. On Wednesday, legislative leaders gave early approval to a plan that would give K-12 teachers a $1,500 bonus for their hard work amid the pandemic.

The Utah Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee, acting on a motion by House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, tweaked the proposal to extend the stipend to teachers offering in-person learning or some combination of in-person and virtual learning before Jan. 19, 2021, which presumably meant Salt Lake teachers would not receive the bonus.

Many Salt Lake educators have been working with small groups who require services such as special education or those who are English language learners.

After what the school district described as "productive conversations," Wilson made the following statement, which was released by the school district:

"I am very encouraged by the discussions this week and think the timeline laid out balances student and educator needs. Utah students and teachers across the state have shown incredible resiliency this past year as they've faced the challenges of 2020 head on. I want to commend Salt Lake City educators and staff for the many ways they've supported their students and school communities throughout the pandemic."

The statement continues: "The Legislature demonstrated support for students and educators this week with an unprecedented $400 million investment of new education funding, much of which will flow directly to Salt Lake City School District. If the school board approves this timeline in their meeting on Jan. 5, all teachers and school staff, including those in the Salt Lake City School District, will be able to take advantage of the one-time stipend that is part of that funding package, and what's even more exciting is that kids will be back in the classroom where they learn best."

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Marjorie Cortez

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