SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Superintendent of Public Instruction has advised the state’s public schools to “plan for continuation of out-of-school learning until further notice.”
K-12 schools will be closed through May 1, according to a statement from Gov. Gary Herbert issued Monday afternoon.
Superintendent Sydnee Dickson, in an earlier letter to school districts and charter schools, said further guidance will come from the state’s COVID-19 task force — of which Dickson is a member, along with Herbert and the Utah Department of Health.
On March 13, Herbert, Dickson and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox announced a soft closure of Utah public schools for two weeks but said the decision would be reevaluated. Nearly 667,000 children attend Utah public schools.
Instruction is ongoing through distance learning. Some schools have sent home paper packets with students while others have shifted to online platforms. Schools continue to provide meal service and work with families that need other services.
Meal services at K-12 public schools will also continue on an as-needed basis. The Utah State Board of Education’s website offers an interactive map of emergency meals available for children daily. The state has obtained a waiver to serve meals once daily, a to-go lunch and a sack lunch that includes food for the next day’s breakfast.
“This is an unprecedented event in our lifetime. Things are changing rapidly, and they will likely change again. We will continue to inform you as quickly as we can,” Dickson’s letter to educators said in part.
Monday’s announcement by Herbert, Dickson and Jared Haines, interim Utah Commissioner of Technical Education, said that Utah’s K-12 public schools will extend the dismissal through Friday, May 1.
Herbert and Dickson expressed their appreciation to Utah educators who quickly adapted their instruction to remote learning platforms.
“These are unprecedented times in Utah’s and our nation’s history,” Herbert said in a statement.
“I have been overwhelmed with Utahns’ outpouring of support for one another, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the way our educators are supporting Utah students and families.” he said.
Dickson’s letter to educators thanked them for their “extraordinary service to students and families.”
“We made it through week one of our temporary new normal and survived an earthquake! I am so proud of all of you!!!!” she wrote.
“We are all appreciative of the flexibility and initiative of our support staff and all who play a role in our schools. I had high hopes, but you have exceeded my expectations. While being away from school creates additional work and stress, it is a necessary step in stopping the spread. We are all being challenged by the anxieties and uncertainties of the coming weeks and your strength is admirable,” Dickson wrote.
Numbers of K-12 employees will be limited at school buildings, following guidance from the governor and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which advise against gatherings of groups of 10 or more. Teachers are encouraged to telecommute when possible.
Meanwhile, Utah’s technical colleges will suspend teaching from March 30 until May 1.
“Given the unique nature of technical college coursework with hands-on instruction and open-entry scheduling, continuing in an online-only model is not widely feasible for students at this time,” the press release states.
Students currently enrolled in technical college programs will retain their progress toward completion, Haines said.
College presidents have discretion to address limited exceptions for delivering coursework online or for individuals or small groups of students nearing completion, but following the guidelines provided by the CDC and for which instructional equipment can be properly sterilized.
“We are invested in the quality of our instruction and want technical college students to have the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in industry. This requires hands-on labs and assessments that we are unable to safely administer at this time. Students will be able to seamlessly resume their progress toward completion as soon as possible,” Haines said.