SOUTH SALT LAKE (ABC4 News) – In an emergency meeting Monday morning, the Granite School Board voted unanimously to approve a new elementary back-to-school schedule proposal by the teachers’ union group, Granite Education Association (GEA).

The schedule designates Mondays through Thursdays for face-to-face learning (unless the parents opted for full distance learning) and Friday for distance learning with time for teacher preparation. Schools will have the flexibility to decide which schedule they want to use. They can proceed as planned with designated distance teachers or split up the workload among their staff by requiring teachers to do both in-person and distance learning.

Nearly two weeks ago, a group of teachers protested outside the Granite School District building citing, “overcrowded classrooms” and proposed an alternating schedule. The demonstration was organized by two groups, Teachers Take Charge and Safe Utah Schools.

Ben Horsley, spokesperson for the Granite School District said an alternating schedule between face-to-face and distance learning was not realistic for their teachers and students. 

He noted that this past spring, the district had a 1:1 ratio of Chromebooks and other technology made available for students, whether they were impoverished or not. They also had 1,000 individual hotspots available for check-out and 27 wi-fi buses. But nearly 20 percent or 12,000 students never logged on for online learning. An additional 15 to 20 percent only logged once or twice.

“That’s not a reflection of the students. It’s not their responsibility to make sure that happens. That’s a result of some of the challenges they face or socio-economic barriers. Some of these kids are simply going to work to help support their families. But we can’t write off 12,000 students,” said Horsley.

While Horsley was not able to give the exact numbers or percentages of teachers who requested to teach remotely, he said that there was an imbalance between the number of teachers wanting to do so and the amount of families who opted for distance learning.

Out of Granite School District’s 62 elementary schools, 80 percent of parents opted for face-to-face learning. District officials said that some families may not have the means to support distance learning with parents working one or more jobs.

“This was a challenge particularly at our smaller elementary schools. Let’s imagine a scenario where we have just two teachers per grade level. Designating one of them to do all the distance teaching when there’s only 10 out of 60 kids doing distance learning is not a fair, equitable approach,” said Horsley.

Granite School District’s initial back-to-school plans, which were finalized during the July 7th and July 14th board meetings stated face-to-face learning would resume five days a week. On August 4th, the board made adjustments to the secondary schedule, designating middle and high school students would attend in-person classes four days a week and then online on Fridays.

On Friday, the Granite Education Association stated in a press release that 70 percent of the 1,400 teachers who participated in their survey felt unsafe with the district’s reopening plan.

Approximately 55 percent said no amount of personal protection equipment (PPE) and cleaning would be enough without the ability to create adequate distance between people in buildings. Only 8 percent said they had no concerns with the district’s plan.

In a letter, GEA President Mike McDonough renewed his plea to the board to change its plan to allow for better social distancing measures. The plea prompted the emergency board meeting on Monday.

“This was a late-hour request by the association. But considering the implications of wanting to meet the needs of our teachers with respect to their ability to provide quality instruction, whether that be distance or in-person, the board agreed to an early morning meeting today,” said Horsley.

GEA President Michael McDonough, who is also an elementary resource teacher said the board has not addressed their concerns about safety. But said they were satisfied with the board’s vote Monday morning.

“I think that the district did a really good job with that. We’re very grateful that the school board listened to our concerns about planning time for teachers,” he said.

Horsley said the district is now working to notify parents of elementary students who will be impacted by this change. The board also made another change to the academic calendar that allows for two additional teacher preparation days and student non-attendance days on October 21st and 22nd. Teachers and students already had October 23rd off, so the added days will allow for a quasi-fall break for families and teachers.

“Parents should have already been expecting a half-day schedule already. But now this will put the impetus on some families to find childcare for an additional three to four hours on Fridays as a result of the changes today,” he said.

He noted that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and remains unpredictable, there is a possibility of additional changes that could be made to the academic calendar in the near future. Positive cases of COVID-19 in classes or groups will result in a partial or full quarantine mandate.

“We’ll be able to evaluate some of the things that have happened this first term, make adjustments as necessary. I think it’s really important to understand that no schedule is set in stone. We fully anticipate that changes will be necessary and need to be made. We’ve never been through  pandemic before,” said Horsley.

Superintendent Dr. Martin Bates discussed some of the safety measures implemented to protect the health and safety of students, staff, and teachers. He said thousands of desk shields and teacher dividers will arrive shortly in time for the start of the year.

Bates also reported all necessary personal protective equipment is in stock and teacher kits from the state will be received this week. Granite School District’s first day of school will be Monday, August 24th.

Click here to download the ABC4 Utah News app for the first alerts on your phone. Sign up for the ABC4 Utah breaking news and daily newsletters.