Wasatch Back Schools Weigh Response To COVID-19 Threat

Nov 12, 2020

Credit WCSD

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges to school districts and communities as educators try to navigate difficult decisions about keeping students in the classroom as the virus continues to spread.

School districts along the Wasatch Back have different strategies when it comes to offering online versus in-school instruction. COVID case counts and record number of hospitalizations are causing officials to mandate more social restrictions.

The South Summit School District has had a hybrid schedule in place since the start of school. District Lead Nurse Amanda Monaco is responsible for tracking COVID-19 case transmissions. She says the hybrid system may help reduce transmissions and quarantines that ultimately keep more kids in the classroom.

“As we’re quarantining children, we have to go back over the last 48 hours from their symptom onset. Those two days before their symptom onset is where we go and look at every single classroom, we go through with a fine-tooth comb, the bus drivers, everything. We look at the seating charts and we decide who we need to quarantine.  who was within that six feet for over 15 minutes? The nice thing about Wednesday's off is it up that's one less day that we're having to quarantine kids. If that Wednesday falls within that 48 hours, then it's one less day. So, I feel like we’ve had to quarantine less kids because a lot of times that exposure date is during that Wednesday.”

She says deep cleaning happens in all the schools on Wednesdays. She thinks it may be helpful to keep students engaged and using the online learning platform.

“And so, I think just staying on that and having to be in the middle of the week, maybe kids are not skipping out on a Friday. It's on a Wednesday, so it's very structured in the middle of the week, 'cause kids are getting their work done and staying on top of that online platform so if we did have to go online again they would be ready to go like tomorrow. There wouldn't be anything unusual for them.”

Wasatch County High School switched to virtual learning for a couple of weeks during October when COVID case counts were spiking. Superintendent Paul Sweat says he would do it again if needed.

“Well, it was the right thing to do. And the reason I say that is because it did reduce our case numbers to a very low number. The reason that we did that is because we feel like the very best thing for our students is to be in school, in person, learning. And to take the opportunity to piggyback some days on either side of fall break, and to get a reset on our numbers, allowed us in our opinion to stay open for longer periods of time.”

Sweat says they are concerned with the recent increase in case counts. He says most Wasatch County School District teachers want to be teaching face to face in the classroom. He says a recent school district survey shows most parents want their kids in class learning. However, Sweat says they did not get a lot of community push back when the high school shifted to virtual learning in October.

“The end game still for us in doing that was to keep kids in school and to keep our doors open. Would we consider doing that again? We're all experiencing another uptick as it relates to Thanksgiving. The answer is yes, we may consider doing that again.”

Last week, the Utah Education Association issued a press release expressing concerns about overcrowding in the classroom and the COVID-19 transmission rates putting students and faculty at risk. Utah’s highest transmission rates are occurring in 15 to 24-year-olds.

Representing the 18,000 teachers in Utah, UEA President Heidi Matthews is asking the Governor and Local Boards of Education to shift secondary schools to on-line learning between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In an email to KPCW, the Park City Education Association Vice President says they support the UEA resolution submitted to the Governor calling for secondary schools to go remote between Thanksgiving and the Holiday break. 

UEA press release