SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – COVID-19 cases have reached an all-time high in Utah, and schools are among the especially hard-hit. Teachers have been calling in sick at alarming rates, as have students. According to Yándary Chatwin, Salt Lake City School District’s executive director of communications and public relations, one quarter of the staff at West High School was out sick due to COVID-related concerns last week.
Four Utah schools – including West High School – reached a high enough COVID case count to trigger the Test-to-Stay protocol, but due to the statewide scarcity of COVID tests, the protocol was unable to be deployed.
Because of these compounding factors, the Salt Lake City School District made the decision to implement a three-day remote learning period beginning on January 19 and ending on January 21. West High School, in addition to East High School, Highland High School, and Northwest Middle School, began remote learning on Tuesday.
Salt Lake City is not the only Utah district to make this decision, either. Canyons, Granite, and Alpine are among the other districts that have also made the pivot to online learning this week.
And although Salt Lake City Schools are expected to open again for in-person learning on January 24, some are concerned about the limited access to essential school-related resources.
According to Chatwin, though, making the decision to go virtual – and calling on the appropriate resources to do so – was much easier this time around.
“Our teachers have an advantage in that they, out of all the teachers in the state, have the most experience teaching remote,” Chatwin says. “Because of the experience they had from last year, it was much easier to pivot.”
And not only are the teachers prepared to enter an online classroom but there are also a variety of resources available for students and families during the temporary period of remote learning.
Because learning from home requires access to internet and technology, Salt Lake City School District will be providing laptops and/or hard-copy materials to students for all their classes. For students at West High School, East High School, Highland High School, and Northwest Middle School, resources were distributed during the week of January 10-14. All other schools will distribute materials on Tuesday, January 18.
Students in the Early Childhood program will also have take-home learning materials and access to resources online. Families without online resources can check out Early Childhood iPads.
And for those without access to internet in their homes, Salt Lake City School District has a limited number of Wifi hotspots available for checkout.
Although the Wifi resources are limited, Chatwin says that the schools are equipped to provide resources to all families that need them.
“We know that we have enough for our students to take them,” Chatwin says. “We’re not a one-to-one district, so we don’t send a device home automatically with every student, but we do know that we have enough for all the ones who need them.”
She says that the district gathered this information through experience with remote learning last year, as well as with a preemptive survey inquiring about students’ at-home needs should remote learning become a reality.
But access to technology isn’t the only concern when it comes to remote learning. Parents of students receiving special education services have also voiced concern surrounding their child’s ability to access important educational resources.
According to the Salt Lake City School District website, students in the BSU (behavior support unit), AS (academic support), ASCEND, and ATLAS programs will be provided with four hours of in-person instruction on remote learning days, and will be provided with district transportation to schools.
“Most kids will be learning remotely at home, but there are students who are better served in person,” Chatwin says. “With the majority of the students out of the building, we feel like we can safely continue to provide services for students whose needs might be a little more specialized.”
And outside of education, schools provide additional resources that are essential. For families struggling with food insecurity, the two daily meals provided by public schools are a necessity.
Because of this, students in need will be able to pick up combination breakfast and lunch meals at 17 different locations around Salt Lake City.
Other Utah districts have similar protocols when it comes to resources during remote learning. Both Granite School District and Canyons School District will provide free wireless hotspots and Chromebooks to students in need, as well as access to a variety of online educational and support-based online resources.