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Alpine School District lays out preliminary plans for the upcoming school year

An empty classroom at Mount Jordan Middle School in Sandy is pictured on Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Alpine School District gave a preview of what the 2020-21 school year will look like during a Tuesday night board of education meeting.

Although the in-person attendance was sparse, over 1,000 people tuned into a livestream to hear how the largest school district in Utah plans on accommodating students in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Aug. 18 is going to come and we are going to return to learn. So whatever the platform looks like, Aug. 18 is when school starts and we’re excited for that,” said Rhonda Bromley, Alpine’s assistant superintendent.

Bromley laid out three plans — a completely online platform that she said teachers put together in the spring, a blended model where students will come to class every other day, and the current plan, which gives parents the option to choose between online or in-person classes.

In a 6-1 vote, the board voted to approve the current plan. However, a concrete picture of what Alpine’s classrooms will look like this fall was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Both teachers, parents and district officials will know more after July 27, when parents will be asked to choose between online or in-person classes, and Aug. 3, when state health officials will reevaluate the plan based on conditions at that time.

“So many questions will be answered once the parents declare,” Bromley said.

But for now, the current plan in place will let students out early every day “to give teachers sufficient time to schedule student interventions,” mandate masks for employees and students with a few exceptions, and ensure breakfast and lunch are served in a “grab-and-go” format.

Classrooms, eating areas and other community spaces will be reconfigured to encourage social distancing, and the district will launch a widespread cleaning campaign. However Bromley was clear that the six-foot social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC would be hard to enforce.

“We are going to separate desks as much as we can,” Bromley said. “But ... they will not be completely six feet apart from each other.”

Assistant superintendent John Patten presented survey results showing how comfortable both parents and district employees feel about returning to the classroom this fall.

Of the 16,678 parents surveyed, the overwhelming majority — 12,301 — said they would allow their children to attend school if state officials give the district a green light to resume class in August.

While 3,876 answered “maybe,” 501 said no, and it was clear during Tuesday’s meeting that district officials are bracing for a large group of students to attend classes online. If a parent chooses the online option, they won’t be able to back out of their decision until the end of the term, a stipulation board members say will ease the burden on teachers during a school year already brimming with uncertainty.

And while a number of parents will likely declare the online option, board members warned of yet another variable to the 2020-21 school year — students and parents getting sick.

Bromley said that’s nothing new for the district’s teachers.

“Teachers face that all the time. Students go on trips, students get sick, and teachers work with those students,” she said. “We’re not going to mandate what that looks like. We want teachers to have autonomy in their classes.”

The concerns from the board members continued to revolve around the burden placed on teachers, particularly with balancing the responsibilities of an online and in-person classroom.

“I am pretty vehemently opposed to us asking teachers to do online support and in-person instruction,” said board member Julie King. “I think having a teacher making sure that their instruction is aligned with online instructions that they have not created I think is a real hardship and I don’t think there’s sufficient time at the end of the day for us to ask teachers to say ‘here’s an hour, we need to do all of this grading and assessments.’”

Although the details still need to be worked out, board members and district officials hinted there could be instructors who exclusively teach classes online, or that teachers would only be responsible for the in-person curriculum, with the online content being developed by specialists. It’s likely the guidelines will be established on a school-by-school basis to cater to the amount of students choosing the online option.

During the public comment period, a number of parents voiced their objections to the district's plans to drastically reconfigure the school year.

“Where’s the emergency to compromise the mental, emotional and physical health of our children?” asked one parent who questioned the severity of COVID-19.

“We don’t care about any other issue but the virus!” exclaimed another mom. “I know six kids with COVID right now. Literally not more than a fever ... we cannot do this, it has got to stop.”

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly said the current Alpine School District plan would let students out early every Monday. The plan would release students early every day.