Back-to-school season is usually an exciting time for kids and families, but with the COVID-19 state mandated school closures in March, districts are working to come up with a game plan to bring everyone back safely.
On Tuesday, the Wasatch County Board of Education will vote on a plan which will give students options for how they will return to classes this fall.
A Wasatch School District survey shows most parents want their kids to return to school all day with a normal schedule. The survey outlined four scenarios, with 60% of parents preferring the option of returning with typical class sizes and increased safety and hygiene protocols. This option suggests face coverings for teachers and staff while students would use them only if they can’t maintain a six-foot separation from others.
Academic Director Garrick Petersen says under the plan they propose, parents would have leeway to decide what’s best for their students.
“They’re very concerned about the academic learning of their students especially coming off of online school the last two months of the school year, which we did well, but it still isn't the same as regular school,” Petersen said. “The physical well-being of students is a high concern and then the social and emotional well-being of students and staff. And one of the things we've realized is different people are prioritizing those three things on different levels, and it's guiding their decisions when it comes back to school and what they want, and it could be very different for different people.”
Another option is a hybrid schedule with morning and afternoon face-to-face class time for core subjects. Electives and non-core subjects would be online and be accessed from home.
The third scenario is 100% online. However just 8% of surveyed parents picked that option. Home school is an option for any parent in Utah.
If the board approves the plan with all four options, parents will have some leeway in how they choose to send their kids back to classes this fall.
Petersen says offering an online instruction option to students won’t add more to a teacher’s workload.
“Our teachers will basically be responsible mostly for option one, and then the half-day face to face,” Petersen said. “But it shouldn't be any more work on them at all because they'll just be instructing, and half their kids will be in class and half will be at home watching the class online. But it won't be any extra work as far as they'll just be watching the instruction so it should be a fairly normal setup for our teachers. Not much additional work at all because we're very good in Wasatch School District in defining what it is we want students to learn and creating assessments and assignments that align with those things.”
Petersen says Federal CARES funding covers the cost of PPE and they’ll supply a gaiter mask for each student. They are experimenting with teachers using face shields especially in the elementary schools because facial expressions are so critical for children’s development and learning.
Teachers and staff who have concerns about being back in the school facilities will be addressed individually.
“But even in the regular classroom, we feet that things are going to be safe,” Petersen said. “We’ve got masks, we’ve got the mitigation pieces in place. And we think we've done as much as we can. But we still are listening to our teachers. And there are some who have circumstances that are a little bit iffy and we will try to accommodate those people to the fullest that we can.”
Petersen says it’s important for some cultural changes to occur with students and staff. With signs of illness, the district wants people to stay at home. The quarantine period for people with COVID-19 is 14 days, which can put added pressure on hiring more substitutes.
“So, we’re thinking through different plans,” Petersen said. “Probably hiring some more permanent subs that are in our system all the time knowing that we will need those as we go, but the details of that are still being worked out.”
The Wasatch County School District Board is meeting on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Agendas are posted at the entrance to the Wasatch Education Center, 101 East 200 North, Heber City, and the virtual meeting can be accessed here.