SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the urging of several parents, educators and students to make social distancing in schools a priority, the Jordan School District Board of Education voted Tuesday to delay the start of school by one week to Aug. 24 and to conduct in-school learning four days a week while offering distance learning on Fridays.
The board briefly considered an alternate-day, hybrid in-school and distance learning model — as announced by the Davis School District earlier in the day — but rejected the proposal.
In Davis District, students whose last name begins with A-K will attend school in person on Mondays and Wednesdays with remote at-home learning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Meanwhile, students with last names L-Z will attend school in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays with remote at-home learning on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Fridays will be at-home remote learning days for all students, with teachers working from the school site to provide remote instruction.
The plan adopted by the Jordan board will require asking the Utah State Board of Education for an attendance waiver of five days to accommodate the delay in the start of the school year.
Most people who addressed the board in person asked for a delayed start to the school year and a plan that reduced numbers of students in schools as a means to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections.
Jordan Education Association President Kelly Giffen called on the board to select an instructional option that provided more social distancing and to delay the start of the school year to allow more time for educators to implement their plans “so their students will be welcomed in a safe and comfortable environment, not one thrown together at the last minute.”
“This is not a normal year. We just need to stay strong and stay healthy together,” said Giffen.
But others asked the board to consider the needs of students who need in-person instruction and the supports they receive at school such as nutrition, specialized instruction and social-emotional learning.
One parent, Rebecca Gillespie, said she believes children who are marginalized “will be further marginalized in their education if they are not in school.”
Gillespie acknowledged there is risk in returning to school but “there’s always a bunch of stuff that goes around. In my mind, we will be hurting children that can’t be here to say ‘Hey, what about me?’”
Rachel Harrison, a parent and nurse at Primary Children’s Hospital, urged the board to consider the health of teachers, students and their families. Otherwise, “the blood is on your hands when they bring it home to their grandparents” and other vulnerable family members.
“I’m scared for them,” she said.
The board took other action to help facilitate the plan, such as agreeing to spend $231,940 on Chromebooks and licenses. Full-time remote learning is also an option for families.
Earlier in the day, the Utah Education Association called on Gov. Gary Herbert, the Utah State Board of Education and local school districts to delay public K-12 school reopening plans and temporarily return to distance learning to start the 2020-21 school year.
Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews, in a statement, called on Herbert “to lead with science and safety and declare that schools in impacted areas will open remotely this fall. We call on him to declare that local school districts should not return to in-person learning until COVID-19 cases decline and they have robust reopening plans created with input from educators and carefully reviewed and approved by local health authorities.”
Matthews said in-person teaching is best for teaching and learning for students and educators, and educators want to get back into schools with our students.
“The reality is that, with few exceptions, we are nowhere near containing the spread of this virus. Current school district plans, no matter how robust, simply cannot sufficiently ensure the health and safety of our students, educators and families in communities where the virus continues to spread unchecked,” Matthews said.
Anna Lehndart, the governor’s communications director, in a statement, said “ensuring the safest possible environment is crucial to helping our teachers and students successfully return to classroom learning.
“We must strike a careful balance, and as anxious as we are to get students back to school, we must be cautious about how and when we do so. The advice of both medical experts and our teachers will be vital in adjusting and finalizing these plans.”