SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – During the gubernatorial debate, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said the repercussions of not having students in school can be damaging – calling out the only Utah school district that has yet to bring back in-person learning. Now, the district responds to his comment and why they will continue with online learning.
Four of the five Salt Lake County school districts have continued in-person learning. And during Tuesday night’s gubernatorial debate, Cox acknowledged the importance of COVID-19 efforts, but then called out the Salt Lake City School District for not opening its doors – as he believes it’s damaging to students.
“Many of our students are being left behind – especially those in low-income areas, students with disabilities,” Cox said. “The Salt Lake City School District is the only school district in the state that has not gone back to in-person learning. And that’s a huge mistake. It is damaging our kids and that needs to change right now.”
He continued to say when a school starts to see an outbreak in COVID-19 cases, the school can move to hybrid learning until the case count is under control.
“We saw this in Pleasant Grove,” Cox said. “Once we pivoted to a hybrid model and kids were there only half the time, and there was more social distancing, they were able to get that under control.”
Cox also noted the state is working closely with school districts, but Salt Lake City School District said they’ve not heard from him personally.
“This is the first we’ve heard from the Lt. Governor with any thoughts on our model of education,” said district spokesperson Yándary Chatwin. “So, he hasn’t reached out to share any feedback or concerns, or anything like that. So, it was definitely a surprise to hear that during the gubernatorial debate.”
“State leaders have chosen not to issue statewide mandates to guide our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said district Interim Superintendent Larry Madden. “Touting a belief in local control, they have instead left crucial parts of Utah‘s public response up to locally elected government leaders, including locally elected school boards.”
ABC4 News asked Chatwin if the district plans to talk to Cox about the comment. Chatwin said if he’s willing, they would.
“We’ve met with some of our other legislators and elected officials,” Chatwin said. “So, if he were interested in having a meeting with our school board leadership or our district leadership, or superintendent, absolutely we would welcome that.”
For now, Chatwin said students will continue with remote, online learning – in an effort to keep students, families, and employees safe and healthy.
“Our board has made it very clear that their goal is to bring kids back in-person,” Chatwin said. “That is how we will provide the best educational experience. But we need to make sure we’re doing that safely.”
The district has a high rate of vulnerable students, Chatwin said, and they’re working to balance educational and health needs.
Because of limited in-person interactions for those within the Salt Lake City School District, the Salt Lake County Health Department reports a total of 34 COVID-19 cases.
The health department reports Canyons and Jordan school districts have more than 300 cases; Granite with less than 200; and Murray with 22.
The Salt Lake City School District will not consider bringing students back to the classroom until November 9th. Chatwin said a decision will be made Tuesday.