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UPDATE: SLC School officials vote to return to in-person learning 2 days a week

(Stock photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Board of the Salt Lake City School District voted 6-1 late Tuesday night to return to in-person learning for 2 days a week.

This story will be updated. KSL Newsradio’s previous reporting follows: 

SALT LAKE CITY  — Can a judge force the Salt Lake City School District to resume in-person learning for junior high and high school students? One parents’ group is taking the district to court, but in-person learning may resume in early February. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the district has been operating mostly under an online class format. Elementary students and certain groups who need special education services are allowed to attend class face-to-face, but secondary school students are still required to learn virtually.

Interim District Superintendent Larry Madden said the district made this decision out of an abundance of caution as they try to limit the spread of COVID-19. He acknowledged other school districts that have resumed in-person learning, which could benefit educators in the district.

“I think we could learn from all that,” Madden said. “We’ve had administrators and teachers visit schools around the county to see how they’re managing things and how things have gone.”

Madden proposed to bring students back to class by February 8th. He is suggesting a hybrid model to the board which will bring kids and teachers back on a limited basis.

“Students would have the option of coming to school for two days a week, in person.  That way, we can keep the numbers down,” Madden stated.

However, Ryan Bell, the attorney for the parents’ group, says even that wouldn’t be good enough. He argues that students would get very little time to interact with their teachers if they can only attend classes two days out of the week.  Bell pressed Madden about his own comments suggesting online learning wasn’t as effective as in-person interaction.

Bell asked, “In your declaration, [you stated] there are some students who are not able to learn as well through remote learning, correct?” 

Madden responded, “I did say that, yes.”

Bell said the district’s decision has already done irreparable harm to students, pointing at recent reports of failing grades as evidence.  He argues that online classes are not a suitable substitute for normal education.

“That has never, ever, been the standard in this state, let alone the nation,” Bell argued.

The lawsuit is asking for an injunction, preventing the district from continuing with online learning.  It also named former Governor Gary Herbert, the Utah State Board of Education and Madden, himself, as defendants.  Kyle Keiser, who represents the district, says educators have done everything they can to provide a safe education.

“It’s not like the district is ignoring the students and not providing students access to a system of education that is what is required,” Keiser said.

Judge Adam Mow instructed the attorneys he wouldn’t be able to issue an immediate ruling.  Mow said he’ll issue a written ruling as fast as he can.