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Salt Lake City to consider return to in-person learning, bonuses back on table

FILE: Parents and students gathered in early December 2020 in protest of remote learning at East High School. Now, students could return to in-person learning as soon as February. (KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City School District will consider a return to in-person learning for middle and high school students as soon as next month, under a proposal from the interim superintendent. 

Additionally, a statement from a Utah legislative leader indicates if that happens, Salt Lake City will be included in bonus money from the legislature that previously would have been denied to the district. 

In a news release Friday, the school district confirmed Interim Superintendent Larry Madden plans to make the formal proposal to the Salt Lake City Board of Education on Jan. 5, 2021, during the next board meeting. 

Secondary students in Salt Lake could soon return to in-person learning

The board previously approved plans for elementary school students to return to in-person learning in January, but until now, there was no plan laid out for upper grade students to do so. 

“The Board of Education has always expressed a desire to bring our students back into the classroom as soon as we could safely provide that option,” Madden said in the release. “They’ve been committed to making data-driven decisions and to taking new information about COVID-19 into account as we learn about it. That’s why they voted in November to begin offering an in-person learning option for elementary school students starting the week of January 25: because the latest COVID data showed us it made sense to do so.

“Now that we know we can have COVID-19 vaccines for our educators and frontline school employees on January 8 and 9, 2021, I feel safe in making a recommendation to the Board to offer an in-person learning option for our secondary students starting on February 8, 2021. This timeline provides our secondary educators enough time to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second dose will be administered on January 29 and 30, which means a start date of February 8 gives our educators and employees the additional seven days needed for the vaccine to reach its full efficacy. Coupled with COVID precautions inside our buildings to keep our students safe during in-person learning, the vaccine provides us one more tool to provide a quality education to our students, whether in person or online.” 

If approved, secondary students would have the option to return to in-person learning starting Feb. 8, 2021. Families may choose to continue remote learning if they prefer. 

Bonuses return if plan approved

The news release mentioned pressure placed on the district by lawmakers and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, who earlier this week announced bonuses for teachers and school employees that would have excluded the Salt Lake City School District. The release attributed the following statement to Wilson, noting it came after “productive conversations” with district officials: 

I am very encouraged by the discussions this week and think the timeline laid out balances student and educator needs. Utah students and teachers across the state have shown incredible resiliency this past year as they’ve faced the challenges of 2020 head on. I want to commend Salt Lake City educators and staff for the many ways they’ve supported their students and school communities throughout the pandemic. The Legislature demonstrated support for students and educators this week with an unprecedented $400 million investment of new education funding, much of which will flow directly to Salt Lake City School District. If the school board approves this timeline in their meeting on January 5th, all teachers and school staff, including those in the Salt Lake City School District, will be able to take advantage of the one-time stipend that is part of that funding package, and what’s even more exciting is that kids will be back in the classroom where they learn best.

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