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East Side school districts adjusting well to ‘new normal’ of coronavirus

Jeff Dempsey
The Park Record

The Park Record.

One quarter into the 2020-21 school year, Summit County’s East Side school districts are reporting a largely successful transition to the new normal of education under COVID-19 safety protocols.

South Summit School District

Jodi Jones, South Summit School District’s public relations head, said while things haven’t been perfect, they’ve gone better than district officials anticipated. The district adopted a blended-learning model that has students on campus four days a week, with either Wednesday or Friday instruction held remotely depending on the campus.

“I worried that students would be constantly not wearing masks and teachers would spend their time managing COVID and not being able to teach,” she said. “Yes, there are times when they have to remind and help students follow protocols, but overall they have been amazing at wearing masks and keeping social distance during the school day.”

Jones said it’s been a team effort to ensure school stays in session in South Summit.

“I attribute the success to everybody stepping up and coming together,” she said. “With the help of custodial, transportation, food service, teachers, paraeducators, administrators and support staff in the schools and in the district, we’re making it work the best way we can.

“The challenge lies in giving students the resources they need while not overburdening our faculty, which is our greatest resource.”

Jones said that as of Tuesday the district had fewer than five positive cases of COVID-19, including faculty, staff and students, while additional students have had to quarantine due to close contact.

“I believe the attentiveness of our staff to following our school reopening protocols and having the Wednesday blended-learning day for Kamas schools and Fridays for Silver Summit has been helpful in managing the balance between public health and academic success,” she said.

The biggest challenge the district has faced this first quarter back? Fear, Jones said.

“Students and parents fear schools closing and doing online learning again,” she said. “Some faculty fear for their personal safety and well-being or (the well-being of) those that live in their home or who they provide care for such as elderly parents. Concern that we are providing the learning experience our students need, despite the constraint of a pandemic.”

Over the summer the district underwent a “massive” technology upgrade to support blended learning, Jones said, and that, too, has been a challenge — as has the work of managing the pandemic itself.

“Contact tracing is very time and labor intensive,” she said. “Every positive case takes at least four hours of time to determine people near them that will need to be quarantined and then providing the most effective communication to those students and their parents. So far, our school nurse has personally contacted everybody to answer questions and provide health information.”

North Summit School District

The North Summit School District has returned with a typical schedule of in-person instruction five days a week as well as a fully remote option for students. So far, said Superintendent Jerre Holmes, the district has been “extremely pleased” with the results. Holmes said his district has had only one positive case of COVID-19, contracted by a teacher.

Holmes said the district appreciates parents who have shown a willingness to adapt to new and difficult circumstances. Teachers and students have also adapted well.

“Our teachers have been amazing with making this school year a success to this point,” he said. “The students have been great at wearing their masks at the elementary school and middle school. Overall, the high school students have been really good. We do have a small percentage of kids who need to be reminded to keep their masks up.”

The mask mandate at all Utah schools, Holmes said, has presented a challenge of its own, as the district has had to “see and understand” arguments for and against it in the community.

“Navigating that has been difficult,” he said. “Also, we run into things weekly that we didn’t necessarily think about when we put our plan (for reopening schools) together. Making those adjustments has been challenging.”

In a largely rural community, Holmes said, remote learning has been challenging for some families.

“We have tried to accommodate all of their individual needs, which has been quite a task,” he said. “At this point, the challenges have been worth what we have been able to accomplish.”

Holmes said the district plans to continue with fully in-person and fully remote learning options. A hybrid model, he said, is not currently on the table.


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