January 5th School Board Meeting Generates Confusion

Emma Johnson, Associate Editor

On Jan. 5, at about 6:30 PM, after over an hour of introductions, I was excited to finally hear the Salt Lake City School Board talk about the big decision on everyone’s minds: when will students at the Salt Lake School District return to in-person schooling? After nine months of coronavirus quarantine, it is hard to know when things will start to return to normal. With case numbers still spiking and the vaccine in very early stages of rollout, the end seems far away.

This hasn’t stopped other school districts from returning to physically attended class. In fact, SLCSD is the only one in Utah still completely online. Though many students, parents, and teachers agree with this decision to maximize the safety of all parties involved, there has also been a considerable push for the district to bring students back in-person.

Over the past months, district after district has made the leap to phase out online learning and try to go back to normal. Salt Lake has been holding out in hopes of preventing students, teachers, and staff from getting infected.

Recently, the Utah legislature has been putting more pressure on the SLCSD to catch up to other districts. In December, they announced that all Utah teachers would be receiving a $1,500 stimulus check, but only if the teachers were working in-person. This upset many people, because it seems that legislators are trying to bribe the Salt Lake district to reopen schools.

Additionally, many parents have expressed their desire to send their kids back to school, some even filing a lawsuit against the school district. All this pressure has begun to affect the board members, and they have decided to begin opening schools.

This is a very significant move to make, and one that is going to require a lot of careful planning. The school board will need to not only hash out every little detail of what the transition will look like and the timeline on which it will operate, but also field animosity and pushback from both sides of the debate.

Based on how the last few meetings have gone, it is doubtful as to how smoothly this transition will go. In the most recent meeting, the board had planned on deciding the official timeline of when high schools and middle schools would reopen, but by the end no concrete decisions had been made. The consensus was simply to wait for vaccines to be administered before moving forward with any plans.

This is concerning because vaccine rollout starts now; in fact, the first shots were given to teachers on Thursday, Jan. 14. If the correct schedule is followed, these teachers will be protected from the virus within a few weeks. By this time, schools need to be prepared to start running.

While it is understandable for the school board to be hesitant to make decisions in this unsure time, they’ve reached a point on their trajectory at which they simply need to decide things. They can adjust the plan as things move forward, but for this to happen a concrete plan is a necessity.

How can students and parents be expected to prepare for in-person learning when they don’t know what date it will start? And how can teachers curate lesson plans if they don’t know by which system they will be teaching?

Obviously, this is a huge planning project for the school board to undertake, but it is one that could be successful if they would fully commit to it. If they really want to make this happen (the question of whether it should happen is a different discussion entirely), some major decisions will need to be made soon.

With the recent transition of board members and the relatively new superintendent, the Salt Lake City school board is not in its most organized state. While the new group seems to hold a lot of potential, trying to transition schools back to in-person will be very challenging. Hopefully they can formulate a plan soon, because the current state is simply one of confusion and time is running low.