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Wasatch County

Potential new Heber high school comes into focus in 2022

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KPCW
Wasatch High School

Overcrowding, quality of education and a master-planning project for Wasatch County schools have brought the possibility of another school bond in 2022 into focus. 

Members of the Wasatch County School Board say they’ll rely on recommendations of a facilities master plan before deciding whether to try to build a new high school. But several say they believe something needs to be done about overcrowding at Wasatch High School.

“We’ve been able to give very individualized and tailored education to our students, and we feel we’re losing that with the extreme growth,” Board President Tom Hansen said. “It’s a packed house over there. The education is lacking because of the overcrowding issues. So, we owe it to our students and our parents to give a little space and alleviate some of the issues that come along with this growth that we’re seeing.”

According to Hansen, the board will decide whether to put a new school bond on the 2022 ballot in August. This time, it’ll only be for a new high school if they do.

In 2019, a $150 million bond to build a new high school in Heber City and middle school in Midway failed at the ballot box, with 57% of voters opposing it. Hansen and others on the board said before trying again, they’ll use a consulting firm’s recommendations.

A study to determine what the community needs in its school facilities, called the Future Schools Project, launched in October.

With about 2,500 students now attending a high school designed for 1,800, the district has to decide whether to adapt to being one of the largest high schools in the state or build a second campus. In October, Board member Marianne Allen told KPCW the district favored the latter option but wouldn’t issue a bond without the support of the public.

At last week’s Wasatch County Board of Education meeting, Director of Student Services Jason Watt said that in addition to overcrowding, the district is also dealing with teacher shortages during the pandemic.

“It came to an emergency,” Watt said, “where our principals were sometimes required to send out an email saying, ‘Hey, parents, I’ve got five teachers gone tomorrow, we don’t have [a substitute]; could someone come and help?’”

As of last week, over 110 students at Wasatch High School currently have COVID-19, along with seven staff members. That’s according to state and district numbers. Students are considered “active” with COVID for 10 days after testing positive.

Aside from parent volunteers subbing, the district last week increased bonuses to teachers who fill in during their prep periods. Watt said the district used COVID relief money, and teachers who use their prep periods to fill in for sick colleagues now earn an extra $50 whenever they do so.

According to Hansen, the number of students sick with COVID was high enough that the school district was preparing for a test-to-stay event two weeks ago. Test-to-stay required students to test negative to be on campuses that had hit a threshold of active cases. But then the legislature canceled the program statewide, citing ineffectiveness and a lack of resources as reasons.

Along with canceling test-to-stay, state officials allowed school districts to temporarily shift to online learning if school boards approve the move and if COVID cases on a campus are above a threshold. Watt said several districts in Utah have done so due to high numbers of teachers out sick. Hansen said the district is still “committed to keeping schools open” during the pandemic.

The next meeting for community feedback on the Future Schools Project is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom. To attend or learn more about the study, visit futureschoolsproject.com.

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