Alpine School District (ASD) is moving forward with its planned opening of school on August 18. The Utah Education Association (UEA) last week called on the governor and statewide education leaders to begin the school year online rather than in the classroom, citing safety concerns. The announcement raised concerns among the public that there might be a last-minute change in plans for how and when school will get underway.
Kimberly Bird, Assistant to the Superintendent of ASD, said the district is working hard to balance the competing interests at play in the situation. “We want to work with our employees just like we want to work with our parents,” she said.
Mike Gowans, president of the Alpine Educators Association, the local branch of the UEA, said that his organization is “working with the district with the plan to assure the safety for our teachers and students. The district’s plan currently is return to school and that’s what we will work with until something changes.” About 47.5% of ASD teachers belong to the AEA.
As of Friday, July 31, 85% of parents in the district had responded to a survey about returning to school. Of those, 86% (68,984) chose face-to-face learning and 14% (9584) chose online.
“We have an overwhelming number of parents who want to get back,” Bird said. Schools will make accommodations for individual situations for both staff and students to make that happen as smoothly as possible. She said the district anticipates a bit of a learning curve as schools figure out how to meet the different needs.
The state has worked with districts by adjusting its requirements for the coming year. While 180 days of instruction will still be required, the normally mandated 990 hours of instruction has been suspended, allowing ASD to shorten the school day by one hour without pushing the school year into June.
Teachers appear ready to rise to the occasion, with nearly all choosing to return this year despite the challenging circumstances and safety concerns. When, in late May, ASD reopened the window in which teachers can declare their intent to retire, only six took that option. When the window was re-opened again in July, about the same number took it again.