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It’s back-to-school time in Murray City School District amid precautions, concerns

Murray schools were first to shutter in March due to ‘potential direct contact exposure’ to COVID-19

SHARE It’s back-to-school time in Murray City School District amid precautions, concerns

Jeannette Bowen takes photos of son Jack as he heads to Murray High School for the first day of school in Murray on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Bowen’s daughters Emily, Hailey and Kate smile in the background as they wait their turn to be photographed.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

MURRAY — With plans in place and fingers crossed, Murray City School District opened its doors Monday, offering its 6,300 students a choice among in-person learning, hybrid instruction and distance learning.

Superintendent Jennifer Covington said “there has been no downtime” over the past five months as the district has developed plans to reopen its seven elementary schools, two junior highs and one high school.

“I am so happy that we’ve been able to find a way where we can open our doors for those who want to come and then we’ve got other options for those who don’t. I feel very confident in our plan. That’s not to say that we won’t have hiccups because that’s to be expected, but there are no better problem solvers than a group of educators,” Covington said.

Murray District is among the first along the Wasatch Front to reopen this month. It was also the first to shutter in March “out of an abundance of caution” due to “potential direct contact exposure to COVID-19 within the district,” according to a statement issued at the time.

On March 13, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson announced a halt to in-person instruction in public schools followed by a pivot to remote learning, which lasted the remainder of the academic year.

Monday was also the first day of school for students in Wasatch School District as well as Utah’s Catholic schools.

Murray District is back, but school looks decidedly different, the superintendent said.

“We have 20% of our students who are going to do the fully online (option). We anticipate we have about another 35% who are going to be doing some form of hybrid, so they will be there on certain days and not on other days. ... I think that’s going to be advantageous because it will help us with that physical distancing that we need within our classrooms,” Covington said.

All students and staff will wear masks under order of the Utah Department of Health.

The outside spaces of Murray’s schools have markings to help students comply with physical distancing.

One of the district’s goals for its reopening plan was to give families flexibility and choice, Covington said. “We know that given everything that’s going on, one-size-does-not-fit all.”

The Bowen family chose to return to the classroom. Their five children who attend Murray schools range from a high school junior to a kindergartener. The couple also has two college-age children.

“All five of them are going to do in person and all of them are really excited despite the new restrictions and how different it’ll be. They are all are excited to be with their teachers again and friends. I hope as a parent that, step by step, we get to add back more and more ‘normal things’ for them,” said Jeannette Bowen.

As Murray District developed its reopening plan, the family talked through it options. One the one hand, attending school in person opens up the possibility they might contract COVID-19. But continuing to learn at home has implications for their social-emotional health.

“Those aspects are more challenging, not being able to be around peers in in-school settings,” Bowen said.

“So yeah, we definitely feel like there’s always the possibility that our kids could come down with it (COVID-19) or we could come down with it by going to the grocery store. We felt like we didn’t want them to live in fear and that by kind of looking at the whole person in the whole picture, that it was a good choice for us to send them back,” Bowen said.

Parents will be key partners in the school reopening, Covington said.

“They need to send their students to school with a mask and reinforce how important it is to abide by the new protocols in the school,” she said. Parents also need to start each school day checking their child for symptoms and keep their children home if they are ill.


Hannah Bowen, left, walks with her sister Kate as they head to the bus stop for their first day of school at Hillcrest Junior High in Murray on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

“It’s going to take everyone in order for us to be able to keep our schools open. But I feel really good and confident that we can do that. I think that parents want schools to be open to the greatest extent possible, so it’s going to take all of us. We all have a part to play,” she said.

Covington said her message to teachers, students and parents is “we’re all going to need an incredible amount of patience flexibility and grace. ... This is something no one has done before and things will look different.

“We’ve tried to anticipate everything we can. We might not have anticipated everything, in fact, I would expect we haven’t anticipated everything. So we’re all just going to need to remember to be flexible and patient and work with each other. Communication is really going to be key.”