North Summit High School opts for remote learning after ‘sudden and rapid increase in positive cases’
North Summit High School shifted to remote learning Tuesday to stem a quickly rising surge of COVID-19 cases the week before Thanksgiving, a move that officials announced Monday afternoon.
In-person classes were scheduled to resume at the end of Thanksgiving break on Monday, Nov. 30.
“Although we did not reach the threshold of 15 cases (in the high school,) we decided to temporarily move to remote learning due to the sudden and rapid increase in positive cases,” North Summit School District Superintendent Jerre Holmes said in a prepared statement. “… We want the students to be in school as much as possible, but believe this is our best option to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the high school at this time.”
Holmes added that the elementary and middle schools would remain open for in-person learning and that each of those buildings only had one confirmed case of COVID-19.
The virus initially hit western Summit County harder than the East Side, but local health officials have in recent weeks said that the virus was surging there. Health Director Rich Bullough in late October shared data that indicated roughly half of new cases of COVID-19 countywide, on a per capita basis, were occurring in North and South Summit. The epicenter in late October was in the Kamas Valley, Bullough said, and the South Summit School District was then the hardest hit in the county.
Now, the East Side has surpassed the western Summit County for new cases per capita, Bullough said, and the North Summit School District is seeing an outbreak of cases.
“In general, we are seeing significantly higher population-adjusted cases in eastern Summit County,” Bullough said, adding that the rate of new cases is about 15% higher in North and South Summit compared to Park City and the Snyderville Basin.
The Park City area has a much larger population than the East Side, so the actual number of new cases is higher on the West Side. Bullough reported that there have been 257 new cases in western Summit County over the last two weeks compared to 118 on the East Side.
He said a surge started about four weeks ago in South Summit and has recently come to North Summit. According to a press release from Summit County, there were 11 new cases over the last week among North Summit High School students and staff. The high school has 328 students, Holmes said, and Bullough said the school’s small size factored into the decision to move to remote learning.
Bullough lauded the way that the county’s three school districts have responded to the pandemic and taken steps to protect students and staff members. He was careful to note that Holmes and the North Summit Board of Education — and not the county Health Department — made the decision to move North Summit High School to remote learning. Bullough said Holmes notified him after the decision was made.
High school teachers will continue to teach from their classrooms, according to the release, and the transition was timed to reduce the number of school days it would affect.
“We are choosing this week and next week to go remote because we will only miss six days of in-person school due to the Thanksgiving break,” Holmes said in the statement.
Districts across the state, including in Wasatch County, have shifted to remote learning for various lengths of time this school year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Early this month, the Utah Education Association called on school districts to transition secondary schools to remote learning between Thanksgiving and winter break.
The three Summit County school districts said then that they were closely monitoring the situation but had no immediate plan to transition.
At the time, Holmes said the district had only seen one case of COVID-19 among the district’s teachers, but indicated that the situation could change quickly.
Health officials on the local, state and federal levels have indicated that the spread of COVID-19 among children has largely occurred in the community — at social gatherings or within families — and not while students are in school.
The Utah Education Association argued that families convening for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays could spread COVID-19 among themselves and students would present an outsized risk to teachers after the holidays.
Officials from the South Summit and Park City school districts on Monday evening said they were monitoring the virus’ spread closely but that case numbers did not warrant a transition to remote learning.
On Tuesday, the state COVID-19 data dashboard showed seven active cases in the North Summit School District, and 10 cases to date, an indication of the lagging nature of the school-related data on the state’s site. It also shows, Bullough said, the speed with which North Summit officials responded to the outbreak.
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The Park City School District offices were inadvertently locked, but security footage was reviewed and the only two community members who showed up were let in and joined in an informal chat with Board of Education members and staff.