The Alpine School District Board of Education approved a plan to reopen schools, provide an online option for students, and require masks in the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
In a board meeting on July 14, the ASD board voted 6-1 in favor of the “fluid plan,” which comes after Gov. Gary Herbert issued a mandate requiring masks in schools. Julie King voted against the plan.
“The only thing that made us feel sure this was ok was assurances from the Utah County Health Department that it was going to be ok,” Mark Clement, a member of the board, said during its business meeting.
The plan, which the district said is evolving, has been reviewed by the Utah County Health Department.
“We do approve this plan,” said Suzanne Livingston, the bureau director of school nursing with the Utah County Health Department. “It’s a great plan.”
The plan includes reopening schools for in-person classes and provides an online learning option. The district has also prepared plans if circumstances change and there needs to be a switch to all-online or hybrid learning options.
Under the plan, schools will have early-out schedules every day. Every student and employee will be required to wear a mask in common areas, during transition times, on buses, in classrooms and while arriving and leaving schools. Exceptions can be made under a teacher’s discretion.
Breakfasts and lunches will be served in a grab-and-go format. Schools will be cleaned and sanitized daily. Buses will be sanitized multiple times a day.
Secondary school students have the option of taking certain classes online through the district’s preexisting East Shore Online program.
The Utah County Health Department will reevaluate the plan on Aug. 3.
The district received more than 300 comments online and about a dozen people signed up prior to the meeting to provide in-person public comment during the board meeting.
Steve Phelps, a teacher and parent of a student with an underlying health condition, said he wants a plan that provides equitable access for students in special education programs.
“These students will not be able to return to school under the proposed plan,” Phelps said.
Matthew Fuller expressed concerns about students being required to wear masks the entire day and with disinfectants will be used.
“We are basically poisoning our facilities on a regular basis to combat this epidemic that is going on,” Fuller said.
He said current products being used may lead to health issues.
Many public comments focused on those calling the mask requirement government overreach, saying that parents should be able to choose if their child wears a mask and called for schools to return to the same procedures they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some speakers broke through tape blocking off rows of auditorium seats in order to sit clustered together.
Alison Arrington called the mask requirement unacceptable and said the district needs to have every decision be a choice made by individual families.
“This has got to stop,” she told the board. “Everyone is overreaching.”
An officer provided security throughout the meeting, and every school board meeting wore a mask.
The plan comes as the district prepares for students to return to school in a few weeks.
“August 18 will come, and we will return to learn,” Rhonda Bromley, an assistant superintendent for the district, told the board.
That reopening, she said, will happen with the safety of students and employees as the first priority.
“Our goal is to have as much normalcy as possible, but we aren’t going to do that at the risk of students or to our teachers,” Bromley said.
A survey answered by more than 16,000 parents showed that 74% would allow their students to return to school, 23% would maybe let their students return and 3% would not allow their student return to school.
A similar survey sent to employees showed that 90% of the 2,700 employees who answered it would return to school, 8% would maybe return and 2% would not return.
The district estimates that up to 20% of students will opt to learn entirely online, according to John Patten, assistant superintendent for the district.
The district plans to provide online specialists to create online curriculums designed to help reduce teacher workloads.
“We don’t want this to feel or be in reality a double job for the teacher,” Patten said.
Scott Carlson, the board’s president, said every family is in a different situation and that it’s important for parents to declare which option their students will choose.
“It is really important that we allow families to make the choice, and I appreciate all the elements in the plan,” he said.
Students who attend school and are symptomatic for COVID-19 will be quarantined inside the school and then sent home. Students who have allergies will need a note from a doctor.
The same policy will apply to employees.
“If someone is sick, please don’t come,” Carlson said. “Stay home. Don’t bring an illness, regardless of what the illness is.”
The state will provide certain materials to the district, including five canisters of wipes for each teacher, 100 disposable masks for each school and reusable masks for each student. Schools will also have additional thermometers and hand sanitizer stations.
Schools will remove unnecessary equipment from classrooms in order to maximize space and implement social distancing standards. Desks will all face the same direction.
Bromley said she doesn’t want to see students transition away from the district.
“We don’t want to lose any of our students,” Bromley said. “We don’t want people to leave the district and just choose to do homeschool.”
Board discussion on the issues brought shouting from the crowd prior to the vote. King, a member of the board, told the crowd that the board respected it’s time to make public comments, and asked for the same courtesy for the board.
“We ask you to follow the protocol that we abide by so we can do the work we were elected to do,” King said.
She said teachers, students and parents are anxious to return to the classroom.
“At the same time, we know that two things stop the spread of COVID, and that is masks and social distancing,” King said.
Amber Bonner, a member of the board, said she’s read more than 650 pages of comments on the district’s surveys.
“I understand that literally no matter what we decide tonight, there will be upset parents and upset teachers and upset people,” Bonner said prior to the vote.
Bonner said her daughter was unhappy about having to wear a mask — until she heard that it would keep her teacher safe.