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Legislature approves bill that would initiate system for students to return to in-person classes

The University of Utah campus pictured in March 2020. After seven rounds of amendments and substitutions, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that would initiate the return to in-person classes by next semester.(Photo: Kelli Pierce, KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY — After seven rounds of amendments and substitutions, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that would initiate the return to in-person classes by next semester. The legislation would increase the threshold of COVID-19 cases a school must reach to close, providing options for students who test negative to continue in-person instruction.

SB107, which passed through the Legislature Thursday, would allow local education agencies to request support and testing materials from the Utah Department of Health once schools reach a certain threshold. 

Under current statute, entire schools must close once they reach a certain number of positive tests among students. However, this bill would create a ‘Test-to-Stay’ system in which students can continue attending in-person classes so long as they test negative. Students who test positive would still be sent home. 

In addition to this alternative, the bill would increase the current threshold Utah schools currently operate under. Schools with more than 1,500 students would now need to meet a 2% positivity rate; schools smaller than that would have a 30-student threshold. 

That’s an increase from the current 1% positivity rate limit, which public schools have met — and surpassed — several times over the last few months, prompting closures. 

To operate the ‘Test-to-Stay’ system, the bill would require the state health department to “support widespread testing” of students “under certain conditions.” That support includes providing COVID-19 testing supplies, a mobile testing unit and other materials requested by the school. 

The bill would go a step further for Utah colleges, requiring institutions to offer more in-person classes. 

By August, colleges must offer at least 75% as many in-person classes they had offered during the Fall semester of 2019. That’s a decrease from an earlier version of the bill, which required 85%. 

Similarly, colleges must provide at least 75% as many in-person courses in the spring 2022 semester as they did in January 2020. 

After passing through the Senate Thursday, the bill heads to Gov. Spencer Cox for his signature, which would allow the bill to take effect immediately.