School districts face Aug. 1 deadline for outlining reopening plans
All three Summit County school districts are planning to resume in-person instruction this August while also offering parents the option to choose an online alternative for their students as administrators and staff scramble to prepare plans for the first full school year during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s important to understand that school will look different,” wrote Park City Superintendent Jill Gildea in a letter to parents July 13.
Students and teachers will be expected to wear masks, lockers will be off-limits, lunch might be held outside, school staff will try to keep track of where students sit to provide information to contact tracers in the event of a COVID-19 case — these are all measures the school districts say they are considering.
The information districts have released varies in detail, but each district is required to submit to the state and make public a comprehensive reopening plan by Aug. 1. The plans must also be approved by local school boards.
The online learning options will be improved from those put in place after the pandemic hit last school year, officials said, with North Summit and South Summit indicating classes will be livestreamed and all districts saying students will be responsible for the same workload on the same deadlines as their peers learning in schools.
Park City is contemplating a full five-day in-person school week, while South Summit is planning to start the year with a blended option that incorporates online learning on Wednesdays and in-person learning the rest of the week. In South Summit, parents will select a fully remote or blended learning option for their students for the first quarter of the school year and then revisit that decision quarterly.
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the plans when the boards hold special meetings in the coming weeks. Park City and South Summit will meet Tuesday while in North Summit the meeting is scheduled July 29.
Gildea said the public will have 10 days from Tuesday to comment on the plan before it is adopted and that input from the board and members of the public would continue to be incorporated into the plan, which she called a “living document.”
The decisions facing the districts are incredibly complex. Each aspect of a normal school day, starting before a student boards a school bus to how, and whether, to have choir practice to what to do if a student disobeys the health protocols all have to be considered.
The Utah State Board of Education has released a detailed template it is requiring that districts use to format the reopening plans, including 10 specific areas of concentration like how to monitor for cases, how to temporarily re-close schools if needed and how to enhance hygiene and safety.
As of Friday, only the South Summit School District had released a detailed plan, 10 pages of bullet points that mirror the state framework and cover protocols for when to sanitize, how to have lunch and what direction students should face in class.
The three districts each have emphasized the importance of hygiene and social distancing and the critical role parents will play in monitoring students’ health and preventing a sick student from coming to school.
“There will be health screenings of all students and staff at home — before boarding the school bus or arriving at school,” Gildea wrote in the July 13 letter to parents. “This requirement is an important partnership component of our safe return to school. Each of us will help protect the community by staying home when feeling sick. All will need to be alert to common COVID19 symptoms which, for youth, can include gastrointestinal symptoms. All should screen daily for fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, and shortness of breath.”
Gildea wrote that large gatherings like assemblies will be avoided and students will likely eat lunch at assigned seats for social distancing and contact tracing reasons. Responding to feedback on the initial ideas, district officials are now planning to allow older students to pick who will share their lunch table, an example Gildea said illustrates the collaborative and complex nature of preparing for a return to school.
“I think as the community begins to recognize the careful thought, research, care, and levels of complexity related to this return, they will begin to also understand that it will take all of us to maintain a healthy & safe learning environment for our staff and students,” she wrote in an email to The Park Record.
In the preliminary measures detailed thus far, the districts indicated slight differences on the issue of masks and their acceptance of distance learning. Earlier this month, Gov. Gary Herbert said that people in school buildings, including students and teachers, would be required to wear masks.
A draft document sent by the Park City School District states that “all students, staff, and visitors will be required to wear a face covering” and in the July 13 letter, Gildea wrote that “every student and adult will be expected to have a face covering and wear it when distancing isn’t possible.”
“The data is clear that the risk of child-to-adult transmission continues to be low and taking proper health precautions, like wearing masks, further reduces medical risks,” she wrote.
In South Summit, the language is a bit softer, with the draft plan stating that “faculty will encourage students to wear face coverings according to state/county orders. In the case of no order, during the pandemic, students will be encouraged to wear masks when engaged in contact longer than fifteen minutes and/or within six feet.”
In North Summit, Superintendent Jerre Holmes wrote that the governor’s mandate that students wear masks in schools forced the district to adjust some of its plans.
“We will comply with the mandate in order to keep our students and staff safe and to keep school in session,” Holmes wrote on the district’s website. “Not all are going to agree with our guidelines or the mandates that have been placed on us; however, we are convinced that an optimistic approach to implementing our plan is crucial in making it a positive experience for our students.”
The details of remote learning options remain sparse, but in information that has been released publicly, the Park City School District appears to be weighing online and in-person education options equally, while both North Summit and South Summit have the stated goal of working toward in-person schooling.
Officials note that dual-immersion language programs are better accomplished in person.
Gildea explained the district’s philosophy in reopening as offering families the flexibility to choose from a spectrum of options.
“We’re not proposing a rigid binary (between) in person/remote,” Gildea wrote in an email to The Park Record. “We have and have always had a continuum of services to meet the student’s needs, and that continues to be available for our families.”
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“I think one of the things that really, really, really scares … us is knowing that there are go-to docs that they can send out saying a student or a teacher or a staff member died,” said union co-president Julie Hooker.