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CDC calls on Utah to help schools resume in-person classes nationally

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Educators are calling on Utahns to help them safely reinstate in-person classes at schools across the country. Officials from the Granite School District were part of a panel hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday, describing the steps they took to resume in-person learning.

Utah leads the way back to in-person classes

Officials with the Granite School District say when districts in certain parts of the country resumed in-person learning in the fall, they were heavily criticized for it. Granite Spokesman Ben Horsley said they were following the best scientific data that was available at the time.  Plus, he said there were other figures that were especially concerning.

“Forty percent of our kids did not engage last spring,” he said. “That’s 25,000 students that did not engage through distance learning.”

Horsley said their top priority has to be finding what is best for the students, and remote learning just wasn’t working as well as they hoped.

“We had no choice but to find a way,” he said. “Utah is leading the way.”

HERO project provides model to return safely

Over 20 schools in the Granite School District took part in the Utah HERO Project (Health and Economic Recovery Outreach) in which researchers tracked the spread of COVID-19 within schools.  Out of 1,000 contacts, analysts fond only five cases where a student with COVID-19 exposed another student to the virus. Horsley said this proved the risk of community spread in schools is very low.

“The data is coming back in full swing to show how little transmission is happening on school property when protocols are followed,” he said.

The Utah HERO Project is the same report that convinced the CDC to change their social distance recommendations, which noted students would be safe with masks and three feet of distance instead of six. Horsley said some states are keeping with strictly online instruction, while others are making a plan to bring kids back to the classroom — and they need help with that.

Now, Horsley said they have to play catch up against the decline in retention students had during distance learning.

“When 40% of your kids do not engage last spring, we’ve been making up for it since the start of last fall,” he said. “There is always going to be that needed intervention and support.”