As a former teacher, I am a strong proponent of public education. All of us want schools to reopen as soon as possible since many students learn better in a classroom setting. We know that schools can be critical for youth who are abused, who struggle to learn online and who have special needs.
However, the premature opening of Utah school districts to all students will overwhelm the health care system and create needless suffering and even death of some teachers, personnel and students. In addition, some sick students and personnel will infect some of their family members. The rushed reopening of schools will create a public health care crisis that will delay consistent, long-term learning for all students.
In Utah, online learning should be the norm for school districts with high test positive rates and incidents of COVID-19. Students who have critical needs that require in-person learning could attend on a restricted basis if guidelines of social distancing, hygiene and mask-wearing are followed.
School districts do not have enough substitutes to fill in when teachers become sick with COVID-19. During the pandemic, it is unacceptable that teachers who are high-risk are required to teach in overcrowded classes and schools with packed hallways and cafeterias. Under current state rules, classrooms will not close until three students get COVID-19. Students who are sick with COVID-19 will ride school buses home if their parents do not pick them up. These factors — and many others — make it impossible for many schools to safely fully reopen right now.