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The City Journals

Sending students back to school safely and smartly

Jul 27, 2020 11:58AM ● By Katy Whittingham

Xavier M., an 11-year-old, going into fifth grade at Whittier Elementary videoconferencing with his class this past school year. (Katy Whittingham/City Journals)

By Katy Whittingham | [email protected] 

In a July 14 Granite School District board meeting, the Utah State Board of Education Reopening Plan Assurances were approved. The assurances are meant to provide a framework that schools in the District can use to develop their own plans including a USTB template for reopening requirements. 

Ann Kane, principal at Mill Creek Elementary, said that their school current plan as of July 20 is for students to return to the classroom or remote learning five days a week. “Parents have been asked to commit to one modality or the other by Aug. 6,” she said. “They have a choice.” According to USTB guidelines, they are asked to commit for one quarter. 

While many parents and caretakers feel having more say and flexibility depending on their individual concerns and situations are benefits, the choice is not easy. Although requirements including facial coverings, increased hand washing, and social distancing may be what many are accustomed to at this point, it’s hard to imagine exactly how such requirements will transfer to a classroom setting, especially for young students. 

The USBE assurances consider seven safety characteristics of a setting in what is referred to as “Risk Mitigation.” The characteristics are movement, duration, proximity, group size, respiratory output, touch and congestion. They also consider different school settings like classrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, restrooms and transition spaces, such as hallways.  

Principal Kane said there are currently three schedules that they can follow based on the direction of the District and the Salt Lake County Health Department. Kane said they include, “A regular schedule in which students are either all online or all in the classroom five days per week. Teachers, in this plan, will either teach face to face or online.” 

If directed she went on to say that they will follow a modified schedule that means students will attend in school either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday and be online the other three days. Finally, she said that if determined they will “go on a dismissal which means all students and all teachers are online five days per week.”

Xavier M., an 11-year-old, going into fifth grade at Whittier Elementary, expressed his ideal scenario for going back to school. He said he would like to have “three days of home school and two days in school,” but hoped they could “mix up the kids regularly, like every month, so we see all of our friends.” He said the hardest part of home schooling last year was not seeing his friends, but the best parts were sleeping in and having a shorter school day.  

Kane has high hopes that they can get through the confusion and stress of this situation and “find our positive school pride.” She noted a literacy night event they had two weeks prior to closing schools in March as an example providing “that feeling of enjoyment, of positivity, of happiness in learning, of togetherness.” She also hopes that they can continue to grow their volunteers, even if it’s virtually. “That is a powerful program we have. I don’t want to lose it,” she said. 

Xavier has his hopes, but also his concerns. “I worry that teachers or kids will get COVID. I worry about wearing a mask for the whole day, but I will do it, so I won't get sick, or get other people sick. I worry about the playground being closed. I worry that I won't get to see my friends as much,” he said. 

Kane echoed many of these sentiments. “My concerns are for the community—can we stay healthy? Can we learn and grow? Can we get through this year and not be so far behind next year? Teachers, staff, students, families—I worry about their health, their well-being, their ability to stay strong for the entire year,” she said. 

Most district and school plans and updates can be found on school websites. The USBE Reopening Plan Assurances and the Reopening Requirements Template for the Granite School District can be found on the Granite School District page graniteschools.org