2 Park City schools move to remote learning after post-break COVID spike
High school and junior high transition to remote learning for two weeks
Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Junior High School were slated to move to remote learning starting Wednesday after COVID-19 case numbers spiked following students’ return from winter break.
Data published by the district shows that the high school had 16 active cases of COVID-19 while Treasure Mountain had six. State and federal guidelines recommend shutting a school that has 15 or more active cases.
Superintendent Jill Gildea indicated in a message announcing the move that in-person learning would resume at both schools no later than Monday, Jan. 25. The schools have a combined population of more than 2,000 students.
Gildea said that once in-person learning returns, the district will test every student and staff member at those schools at least once every two weeks, a program known as “test to stay.”
“Once we fully implement the ‘Test to Stay’ program, the ‘15’ case counts will no longer trigger a move to remote learning as all will participate in ongoing testing,” Gildea wrote in an email to The Park Record. “Anyone positive will isolate/quarantine, and others will be able to continue to attend in person learning.”
The district had hoped to avoid moving to remote learning and was alone among the three Summit County districts in not closing a school this academic year. Officials have touted the importance of students learning in person, and students, teachers and parents have decried the challenges of remote learning.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough on Tuesday morning said he had not reviewed the newest data and that he was not involved in the decision to close the two schools. He said the Park City School District’s data has oftentimes been more accurate and up to date than county or state information.
“The thing I would point out about those numbers is they come on the heels of students being out of school,” Bullough said. “It’s pretty tough for the school to be in a situation where they’re having individuals come into the building being exposed. They’ve proven that the schools could be run safely. There wasn’t a significant problem there until school was out of session.”
Bullough indicated that contact tracing efforts have shown the vast majority of cases continue to be spread among small informal groups and family gatherings, some 80%.
Gildea indicated the ambitious testing program largely mirrors the one used for sports teams.
“‘Test To Stay’ provides a rapid test for all students and staff at the secondary level in order to identify and alert participants to asymptomatic, positive cases,” Gildea wrote. TestUtah will be administering the first of those tests to all community members who want one from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the high school.
TestUtah will also support testing at the high school on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26.
The rapid antigen tests take 15 minutes to return a result, and Gildea said she anticipated they could test 650 people per day.
“I encourage all who are interested to participate in that rapid test,” she wrote.
Parents will have to sign a waiver allowing their children to participate in the testing program.
Those who test negative can continue in-person learning, while those who test positive isolate and participate in remote learning for 10 days. Students who do not take a test, meanwhile, must participate in online learning for 10 days. Staff members who are not tested are expected to continue to work in person at the school as long as they are not displaying any symptoms of illness, Gildea wrote.
Bullough initially thought schools would be a significant source of spread for COVID-19, but has said that has not proven to be the case. He credited educators for keeping their classrooms safe and enforcing public health guidelines like mask wearing, hand washing and maintaining social distance.
The state’s largest teacher’s union pushed districts to move to remote learning after holiday breaks, something the South Summit School District did after Thanksgiving and winter break, while the Park City School District did not.
A group of Park City teachers has advocated a move to remote learning or a hybrid schedule to allow for fewer students in the classroom, which aids in social distancing.
A Park City teachers union representative said the union supports this move to remote learning, as well as the planned test-to-stay program implementation.
McPolin Elementary, Jeremy Ranch Elementary, Parley’s Park Elementary and Ecker Hill Middle School will remain open for in-person learning, the district indicated. Ecker Hill had the highest number of active cases among those schools, with four.
Students and families will still be able to pick up free breakfast and lunch during the remote-learning period from 8-10 a.m. at the high school and Treasure Mountain, Gildea wrote.
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The CDC recommends vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings in Summit County, a step backward precipitated by the rise in cases tied to the more-transmissible Delta variant.