UPDATE: Herbert orders dismissal of public schools | ParkRecord.com

UPDATE: Herbert orders dismissal of public schools

Trailside Elementary School.
Jeff Dempsey/Park Record
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People concerned about whether they have COVID-19 are advised to call the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707. 

Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday ordered all K-12 schools in the state to be shut down for two weeks starting Monday.

“Let me just be clear: We’re closing Utah schools as a preventative measure,” Herbert said in an afternoon press conference. “This is trying to say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said that the state is dismissing schools rather than closing them, something she said is an important distinction that enables local districts to keep their doors open to offer services like meals.

Summit County’s three school districts had been preparing for such an eventuality even as they remained open throughout the week. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the cancellation of dozens of events locally and recommendations from state and county officials to limit large gatherings to fewer than 100 people.

On Thursday, the Murray School District became the first public school system in the state to announce a closure, “out of an abundance of caution,” after learning of potential direct contact with a case of COVID-19, according to a press release. No such direct contact has been reported in the Summit County districts.

Herbert said the state will reassess the situation after the two-week dismissal. Dickson added that this should not be seen as the state canceling the remainder of the school year.

The Park City, North Summit and South Summit school districts have been preparing to continue to provide education to their students in the event of an extended closure through online distance learning techniques and physical paperwork students bring home.

Dickson had previously noted the extra burden closing schools would put on families, partly because of the role schools play in taking care of children during working hours and feeding children at least one meal each weekday.

“Additionally, not having K-12 children in school puts weight on families whose parents work during the day, or for those in which childcare is not an option,” Dickson said in a press release Thursday. “It is a different type of social and economic impact that we are not taking lightly.”

South Summit Superintendent Shad Sorenson said before Herbert’s announcement that the district planned in the event of a closure to continue to provide meals to students who receive free and reduced lunch. He anticipated the district would be able to deliver some of the meals to students’ homes.

The Park City School District said it would offer grab-and-go breakfasts and lunch to district students at Ecker Hill Middle School and Treasure Mountain Junior High School. The food will be available to pick up between 8 and 10 a.m. on weekdays.

In North Summit, Superintendent Jerre Holmes said parents should notify the district of their interest in having their students pick up breakfast and lunch to go.

Each of the three districts had plans in place to ensure students are able to continue learning while school is out.

The Park City School District said it was preparing packets of schoolwork to be sent home with students Friday in the event schools would be closed for an extended period. The packets would focus on reviewing previously taught content so parents wouldn’t be in the position of having to teach new topics at home.

North Summit and South Summit school districts said they would rely more on remote learning through internet-ready devices like iPads and computers, an option that the Park City School District said would be the focus for students in grades six through 12. Officials from all the districts said they were taking stock of students’ access to the internet and devices like computers and iPads.

Park City School District spokesperson Melinda Colton said the district had completed its inventory and had internet-providing hot spots ready to distribute to students.

Holmes said North Summit anticipates relying on its 1:1 device-to-student ratio to continue instruction, but that details were still being worked out as to how that remote learning would work.

“Say for example I have math third period — is that the time I should be getting in touch with my math teacher?” Holmes said. “We’re doing our very best. Still want kids engaged, thinking, working, that’s our goal in all this.”

Sorenson said the South Summit School District would rely on online resources for grades K-12, and that students who do not have access to a device at home could arrange to take one of the district’s devices, a change in regular district procedure.

The Utah High School Activities Association announced Thursday that high school athletics would be suspended for two weeks starting Monday.

Before Herbert’s announcement, each of the districts said they were increasing efforts to sanitize facilities.

Local school officials acknowledged the situation was changing rapidly, if not hourly.

“It’s a strange time but we’re trying to make it as normal as possible,” Holmes said.

For information about symptoms of the coronavirus and how to protect yourself, click here.

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