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The move, approved Thursday by the district board of education, is a reaction to the high number of coronavirus infections that continue to plague the Utah capital. After more than two hours of discussion, members decided it was less risky to keep the children at home for at least the first month of the fall.
“It’s important to get our kids back into the classrooms,” board chair Melissa Ford said at the virtual meeting. “And we want to do it as soon as it̵7;s safe.”
The decision came at a much more taming meeting than the chaos caused by the board’s debate on the issue last week, which then ended in a dead end. One member, however, Michael Nemelka, still voted against the plan Thursday in the 6-1 call-up. And, with the camera off this time, he said he will continue to believe that teachers who want to continue remote instruction are “lazy”.
Ford and others declined to comment.
Schools in the city will start online on Sept. 8, with a two-week delay to provide time for teachers, parents and students. The district intends to monitor for virus cases when a return to the classroom can occur safely. Any openings will be aligned with the noon mark or the end of a quarter so as not to interrupt classes and classification. The first quarter ends on October 30th.
To return, interim superintendent Larry Madden said the district is looking for two landmarks. The average positivity rate in the largest county, he said, will have to stand at 5% of those tested. It currently stands at 9.32%. The district is also monitoring cases per 100,000 people. To reopen, you must be below 10. Right now, it’s at 17.9.
“We want to start the year with caution,” Madden said during a press conference after the meeting. “Our goal is to maintain a balance between the health and safety of our students and their education.”
The 13-page dashboard plan also explains what the return of a hybrid or person would look like when it can be returned.
Although with online classes, however, the district’s sports will be able to resume. Those in need of additional help can schedule one-on-one meetings with their teachers or a counselor, Madden said.
Now, all educators have been trained on the best methods for distance learning. And all the materials are centralized on one district website, so families don’t have to discover multiple platforms. In addition, the school district has purchased 6,000 more laptops for those who do not have access to computers at home and is working to ensure that all students have Internet connections, one of the main issues of equity in time to stay online.
About 1,500 parents and teachers watched the discussion on Thursday. When it was announced that the decision would virtually continue, the comments section erupted with “What a relief!” and thank you! “and” Well done! “
The Salt Lake City School District has been a focal point for the state when it comes to reopening schools. The district is the only one left in an area, in the city’s capital, that is still considered “orange” or at moderate risk for the spread of the coronavirus. Under this status, classes are supposed to be held remotely.
Madden said he appreciated the comments from both parties and helped the district make what he described as “the toughest decision possible.”
Most of the council supported the plan. Member Nate Salazar said he loves being “rooted in science.” MP Katherine Kennedy added that most of the voters she has heard from are supporters.
Others asked questions about how the district would specifically help the most vulnerable students and joined in voting on the plan when they heard the answer. Sandra Buendia, the district’s executive director for educational equity and student support, said children who learn English, have a disability, are refugees or just need a safe space will be a focus. The district will send staff to all the homes it needs, especially those that have been most difficult to reach, to make sure students have what they need to start classes.
All students and parents will have the option to meet with their teachers in the two weeks prior to the start of school. And they can use that time to defend their needs. Additionally, the district will conduct assessments of all children to see who could be left behind after the spring and can use more attention, Buendia said.
Breakfast and lunch programs will also continue for families.
At one point in the discussion, member Michelle Tuitupou asked, “How will you work with working parents?” And Nemelka, the board member, who told the teachers “lazy,” laughed.
Last week, during the board debate, he had played solitaire on a second computer screen, which could be seen in real time, and many residents were upset. This week, when it was his turn to speak, he stated that he would not turn on the camera because of it. “That’s why you don’t have my photo now,” he said.
Nemelka, a retired teacher, went on to say that she did not understand why the educators were unwilling to return to the classroom. He compared them to firefighters, doctors and grocery store workers who have worked during the pandemic “despite the danger.”
“They have courage and we applaud them for that. Why don’t some teachers want to work in front of the classroom?” He asked. “To teachers who are afraid of the life you live, you have to take a look at yourself.”
He said face-to-face instruction is the most important part of the job. “I still think online teaching is a lazy way to teach K-12,” he added.
As he spoke, some of the commenters asked him to ask. Nemelka’s seat is in this year’s election, with one person, Jenny Sika, against her.
Ford had begun the meeting on Thursday by saying the board debate last week was inadequate, largely pointing out concerns with Nemelka, in addition to Kennedy pushing to end the debate at six in the afternoon because he had other plans. Ford has said students should be the board’s priority.
“Last week, other personal priorities and concerns were removed from this approach,” he said. “Such distractions have no place in a board meeting.”
Now, he said, the main concern is to keep students safe. While many prefer to teach in person and see it as the most effective way to teach children, Ford added, it is too dangerous in current city conditions.
But the district is still preparing for when more security would be opened by adjusting air systems in schools, installing sanitation stations in playgrounds and putting up plexiglass barriers. Because coming back, Ford said, is the goal.
The school plan states that “it is not in the best interest of our students or families to proceed indefinitely with a single remote option, nor is it our intention.”