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Traditional schools may resume ‘normal’ look, online learning options will continue

Aug 10, 2021 12:10PM ● By Julie Slama

Will mask reminder signs for students be a sign of the past this fall in schools? (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

As area students head back to school, it may look more like a “normal” school year.

Understanding that health and safety COVID-19 protocols and guidelines may yet change, “as of right now, things will be closer to normal than not,” said Murray School District spokesman Doug Perry on June 30.

“We follow state and local health department guidelines and mandates as they are the health experts. As of right now, schools will be open, no masks will be required,” he said in late June.

Murray School District, like its neighboring districts—Canyons, Granite and Jordan districts, will offer in-person and online learning.

“We will have two learning options, one in-person and one online for those who don't feel comfortable or are at risk,” he said. “Our bell schedule will revert back to what it was before the pandemic, so that includes a short day on Wednesdays. We have not heard of any recommendations regarding distancing and are presuming there will be no distancing guideline but that's not fully determined.”

Perry said that some sanitation protocols were good and may well continue, such as frequent handwashing and surface cleaning.

While it’s not certain what schools will look like when they start in mid-August, Perry said, “Our decisions impacted by COVID-19 are influenced heavily by expert recommendations from the health department; the State Board of Education would be another important partner, along with our colleagues in the other four Salt Lake County school districts and those in neighboring counties.”

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said that with their protocols in place, such as Test to Stay and Play, “we do not anticipate any additional COVID restrictions or mask requirements for this fall at this time.”

However, he pointed out that COVID-19 has proven to be “a dynamic event that requires a lot of flexibility and adjustments. We are preparing for every potential scenario.”

As of July 6, Granite District will offer in-person “in the same fashion as it was pre-COVID,” five days per week. Families who still have concerns will have a distance learning option at all grade levels.

Jordan School District spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said that “we are going to be in the classrooms and right now, the plan is to have classrooms back to normal.”

However, she added that could change depending on the pandemic and guidelines they receive from the county and state.

“Our Board of Education has a very much hands-on (approach). They looked at these situations and our school administration and our cabinet, they came up with the reopening plan when we reopened,” Riesgraf said on July 1, adding if it comes to re-addressing the current health situation, “we will decide what works best in Jordan.”

A benefit from virtual learning during COVID-19 in Jordan School District was offering flexible Fridays, where teachers were able to individually meet with students or small groups, in person or virtually, to offer additional instruction, enhanced learning or review. This year, as a result of parent surveys indicating its benefits, Jordan will continue to offer the flexible Friday learning four times: Sept. 10, Nov. 19, Feb. 11, 2022, and April 29, 2022.

Another positive outcome, Riesgraf said, was the establishment of offering online learning in their own virtual schools—Rocky Peak Elementary, Kelsey Peak Middle and King Peak High.

“Every student in the district has the option to sign up and attend at one of those schools if they want to do online learning this year,” she said. “The elementary and the middle school will offer in-person learning one day a week so they will have the option one day to come in and have in-person learning.”

She said that is unique and will give students an opportunity, if they choose, to have more hands-on learning and be able to work in small groups or partners to build community.

“I don’t know anybody else in the state is offering that and nobody else in the state is offering K through 12 (online education),” she said, adding that students still are able to participate in extracurricular activities at their boundary school. 

Canyons School District also will offer in-person learning and online options. 

Last spring, Canyons students and faculty and staff had the option to wear face coverings its final week of school in the 2020-21 school year and like other districts, it will abide by health and safety guidelines and continue to monitor the situation, according to district spokeswoman Kirsten Stewart in late June.

Alta View Elementary Principal Scott Jameson said through use of technology, some positive aspects have come out of COVID-19.

“With virtual learning, we likely won’t have snow days where we have to make up the learning day during the holiday breaks,” he said. “Our teachers have learned to use technology and use it effectively. Kids do well with it in general so I can see using that experience and integrate more technology into the classroom or if we need to switch to teach online or hybrid again. Even elementary schools are using Canvas (learning platform) in their classrooms, so if a student is absent, they can log in to see what assignment they’re missing and if able to, be able to do it.”

Jameson also said that all the “good hygiene” of hand-washing and hand-sanitizers will be encouraged in his school.

In the spring, the district did establish a new online opportunity, updating its virtual high school offering.

Canyons Board of Education approved the launch of Canyons Online, a technology-driven educational initiative for grades three through 12 that will begin this fall.

“This past year has taught us how important in-person instruction is because of relationships and connections students make with teachers and their schools,” Canyons School District Superintendent Rick Robins said on March 31. “What it also has taught us is how we can deliver education virtually. Some of our students have flourished online, while others have missed those relationships in our schools. We realize we can offer our students the flexibility of online learning while blending it with those connections.”

That ability to make and maintain connections with their neighborhood schools is what makes Canyons Online unique among other online-learning programs, he said. 

Canyons Online elementary-age students will be able to participate in before- and after-school music programs, science fair and debate. Middle-schoolers enrolled in Canyons Online can take electives at the local school, plus compete in science fairs and debate. Canyons Online high school students will be allowed to dual enroll so they can have full access to high school programs.

“We’re re-establishing relationships with kids who have stayed online with their neighborhood schools to build that instruction and connection into Canyons Online,” Robins said. “The blended online format will have the academic component, whether it’s support and remediation or acceleration, plus the connection to their neighborhood school. This is really at the heart of what personalized learning can be.”