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The move, approved by the district’s education committee on Thursday, is in response to a large number of coronavirus infections that continue to plague the Utah capital. After more than two hours of discussion, participants decided that leaving children at home was less risky for at least the first month back this fall.
“Returning our children to class is important,”; council president Melissa Ford said during a virtual meeting. “And we intend to do it as soon as it’s safe.”
The decision was much more subdued than the chaos that colored the council’s discussion on the subject last week, which ended in a stalemate. Although one member, Michael Nemelka, still voted against the plan on Thursday in a 6-year call. This time, turning off the camera, he said he would continue to believe that teachers who want to continue distance learning are “lazy.”
Ford and others reject this remark.
Schools in the city will now launch online on September 8, with a two-week delay, to give teachers, parents and students time to prepare. The district intends to track cases of the virus for when a return to class could take place safely. Any reopening will be aligned with either the middle mark or the end of the quarter so as not to disturb the classes and classification. The first quarter ends on October 30.
To return, interim chief Larry Madden said the county was considering two landmarks. The average rate of positivity in a larger district, he said, should be 5% of respondents. It is currently 9.32%. The district also monitors cases per 100,000 people. You will need below 10 to reopen. It is now at 17.9.
“We want to start the year cautiously,” Madden told a news 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 board also shows what a hybrid or personal return will look like when you can go back.
Even with online classes, however, sports in the district will be allowed to resume. And those who need extra help can schedule one-on-one meetings with their teachers or counselors, Madden said.
Now all educators have been trained in the best methods of distance learning. And all the material is centralized on one website, so families don’t have to find multiple platforms. In addition, the school district has purchased another 6,000 laptops for those who do not have access to computers at home, and it is working to ensure that all students have an Internet connection – one of the main problems of justice that remains on the Internet.
Nearly 1,500 parents and teachers watched the discussion on Thursday. When the extension of the decision was announced, the comments section exploded with the words “What a relief!” and “THANK YOU!” and “Well done!”
The Salt Lake City school district has been a central hub for the state when it comes to opening schools. The area is the only one left in the area – in the capital – still considered “orange”, or has a moderate risk of spreading coronavirus. According to this status, classes are held remotely.
Madden said he appreciated the feedback from both sides, and it helped the county make what he called “the most difficult decision possible.”
Most boards supported the plan. Member Nate Salazar said he likes it to be “rooted in science”. Member Catherine Kennedy added that most voters she had heard of were in favor.
Others asked how the district would specifically help the most vulnerable students and joined the vote for the plan when they heard the answer. Sandra Buendía, the district’s executive director for equality and student support, said that English-speaking children have disabilities, are refugees or simply need a safe place. The district will direct staff to each household, especially those that were harder to reach, to make sure students have what it takes to get started.
All students and parents will have the opportunity to meet with their teachers two weeks before school begins. And they can use this time to defend their needs. The district will also do additional assessments for each child to see who can lag behind after spring and can use more attention, Buendía said.
Breakfast and lunch programs will also continue for families.
At one point during the discussion, member Michel Tuitupu asked, “How will you work with working parents?” And Nemelka, a board member who called the teachers “lazy,” laughed.
Last week, during a council debate, he played solitaire on a second computer screen that could be seen live, and many residents were upset. This week, when it was his turn to speak, he said he would not turn on the camera because of it. “That’s why you don’t have my picture now,” he said.
Nemelka, a retired teacher, continued, saying he did not understand why teachers did not want to return to the classroom. He compared them to firefighters and doctors and grocery store workers who worked during the pandemic “despite the danger.”
“They have the courage, and we applaud them for that. So why don’t some teachers want to take their place in front of the class? he asked. “Those teachers who are afraid of the life you live need to look at themselves.”
According to him, personal instruction is the most important part of the job. “I still think that online learning is a lazy way to learn K-12,” he added.
As he spoke, some in the comments urged him to back off. This year, Nemelka is the choice, and one person is running against him – Jenny Sika.
Ford began the meeting on Thursday, saying that the way the council’s commission had been discussed last week was inappropriate, largely indicating concern about Nemelka and that Kennedy was pushing to end the debate at exactly 6 p.m., as she had other plans. Students, Ford said, should be a council priority.
“Other priorities and personal issues were removed from this focus last week,” she said. “This type of distraction does not take place at a council meeting.”
At the moment, according to her, the main problem is the safety of students. Although many prefer personal learning and see it as a more effective way to teach children, Ford added, it is too dangerous in today’s city.
But the district is still preparing for when it may be safer to open by adjusting air systems in schools, installing sanitation stations on playgrounds and installing plexiglass barriers. Because returning, Ford said, is the goal.
The school plan states, “It is not in the interests of our students or families to continue indefinitely with the remote option, and that is not our intention.”