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SLC School District defends online-only classes after remarks by Lt. Gov.

School is back in session today for most districts across the state, which has some worried about a potential spike in coronavirus cases following Thanksgiving break. (PHOTO: KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY — Citing the lack of a statewide mandate dictating how and when public schools would reopen during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the district’s concern that families within their district boundaries have been hit “particularly hard” by effects of the virus, the Salt Lake City School District on Wednesday defended its decision to open in an “online only” capacity.

The comments were in response to Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, who said during the Utah Governor’s Debate on Tuesday that he questioned the District’s decision. Cox, a Republican, is running against Democratic opponent Chris Peterson to replace Gov. Gary Herbert.

“There are other things at play here that are damaging to our children besides the coronavirus,” Cox said during the debate.

“The coronavirus is absolutely important and we’re taking it very seriously. But the repercussions of not having kids in school can be just as significant and may be worse in some cases,” Cox said.

“In fact, many of our students are being left behind, especially those in low income area[s], students with disabilities. 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.”

Two months ago, the Salt Lake City School District School Board voted 6-1 to offer online classes only when the school year began. At that time, interim Superintendent Larry Madden admitted that some parents wanted classes on campus. He said at that time that protecting students and staff was their overriding concern.

After Lt. Gov. Cox’s comments at the debate, Madden again defended the district’s decision.

“State leaders have chosen not to issue statewide mandates to guide our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Madden said in a statement. “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.”

Madden also noted that schools in other Utah school districts have had to temporarily close down or move to hybrid online/in-person schedules when cases of COVID-19 reached pre-determined levels. 

“While several schools across the county have experienced local COVID-19 outbreaks, our students have continued to safely learn online,” Madden said.

The District says it will “continue to let local conditions and local data guide decisions made in the best interest of students in the Salt Lake City School District.”