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Guest opinion: Helping Utah’s public education system recover should be top priority

Sophomore Zoe Scott waits for her bus to leave Murray High School on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Murray City School District announced Thursday it is closing its schools until further notice amid spread of the novel coronavirus in Utah. Most students and teachers left school after the announcement was made earlier in the day.
Sophomore Zoe Scott waits for her bus to leave Murray High School on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Utah schools have been closed for in-person work due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utah’s schools have now been closed for three weeks, and in that short amount time we’ve asked our public education system to make incredible changes. Our physical classrooms are empty, but our Google and Zoom classrooms are full. Our lunchrooms aren’t open, but you can still grab a meal to go. Our buses aren’t delivering students to school, but they are delivering food and supplies to our families. Our schools, teachers and support staff have shown incredible flexibility to adapt the way they teach, administer services and care for our children.

In a matter of days, Utah teachers were able to take their curriculum online. Not because we purchased Chrome books and iPads for our classrooms, but because we invested in the training and education of our teachers, and our teachers rose to the challenge. We’ve asked our schools and their staff to make enormous sacrifices, and they’ve delivered on every front.

Our governor and legislative leaders have rightly spent a great deal of time providing programs, loans and information to small business owners and employers, independent contractors and renters. The recovery of the economy is integral to the recovery of our state. But the recovery of our students and our schools is just as important, and we need to start talking about it now.

Regardless of the fact our statewide tests have been canceled, our children will advance to the next grade in the fall. They may go into this next school year a few weeks or a few months behind, but the reality is that no matter the effort of teachers and parents, this pandemic will disrupt our children’s learning. This will be particularly true for children whose parents can’t afford technological tools, who have to work full time, and for parents who have children with special needs. Utah parents are doing the best they can to keep their children connected, engaged and learning, but our kids are going to need extra help.

I’ve always believed that you can determine a person’s priorities by looking at where they spend their money. The same holds true for our state. If our children are truly our No. 1 priority, we have to make sure Utah has a comprehensive plan for the recovery of our public education system. One that gives schools and teachers the resources and funding they need to offer extra tutoring, provide extra online learning during the summer months, put more aides in the classroom and make sure our children come out of this pandemic healthy and prepared for another academic school year.

Our schools, teachers and staff have proven that Utahns are resilient and adaptable. But our school districts and charter schools need to know that their recovery is just as important as an economic recovery, and that we’ll provide the resources they need to continue to prepare and educate our children. Utah has always rallied in the face of adversity, and we’ll do it again to make sure our children get the help they need.

Thomas Wright is a former Utah GOP Party chairman and a candidate for governor in the 2020 Utah gubernatorial election.

Rob Bishop is the U.S. Representative for Utah’s 1st Congressional District and a candidate for lieutenant governor in the 2020 Utah gubernatorial election.