Returning students to physical schools next week is reckless, teachers told the Alpine School District.
“It is statistically likely that we will lose students due to COVID if we go through with the plan,” Joey Bosen, who teachers at Canyon View Junior High School, told the Alpine School District Board of Education.
The board heard from multiple teachers during its meeting Aug. 11 at Lehi High School, who pointed out that COVID-19 cases are higher than they were when schools closed in March and that class sizes are too large to provide social distancing standards.
“Even one life is too many to lose,” Bosen said.
Students will return to school with the option of either face-to-face or online-only classes. Masks will be required.
About 96% of parents had declared which option they’ll participate in, according to Rhonda Bromley, an assistant superintendent in the district. Of those, 87% said their student would return to face-to-face learning.
Ada Wilson, a member of the school board, said the board wasn’t given enough time to ask questions during the Aug. 11 meeting. Wilson said there aren’t any guarantees about physical distancing in classrooms and is concerned about Orem being a COVID-19 hot spot.
“We have not been testing as much as we should, which means the prevalence of COVID-19 is probably greater than what we are seeing,” she said. “It is a concern to me.”
Wilson said one teacher told her that she would always give her life for her students but didn’t expect it to be due to COVID-19.
John Patten, an assistant superintendent, said teachers are being asked to maximize space in their classroom. He’s heard from teachers who said they’ll include breaks when half of their class can remove their masks at a time or will provide an area where a student can take their masks off if they need to.
“I think we’ll see a lot of creativity,” Patten said. “We’ll learn as we go.”
Schools will allow only 25% capacity at sporting events. Julie King, a member of the board, said that requirement doesn’t match up to the 87% of students who will be inside buildings. She asked which metrics the district was using for its plan. An answer wasn’t available for her at the meeting, although Bromley said the district is constantly communicating with the Utah County Health Department.
“I would love clarification about the specific data metrics they are using,” King said, referring to the UCHD. “I’d love to have follow-up on that.”
Bromley said the Return to Learn plan is adaptable.
“This is a fluid plan and we have to be flexible and we’ve got to be ready because something might happen with a school or a cluster or district-wide that might go back to 100% online,” Bromley said.
Two high schoolers addressed the board during the public comment section of the meeting, stating that students have not been asked which plans they would prefer.
One teacher said that due to how many of her students are returning to face-to-face learning, children will be seated 17 inches apart horizontally and 3.5 to 4 feet vertically. Another teacher urged for smaller class sizes.
Steven Phelps, a teacher, asked for the board to delay the start of the school year to help teachers prepare and to provide a plan to provide equity for students with special needs.
“We have not done enough to give teachers enough time to do that,” he said.
While he understands arguments in favor of returning students to physical schools, plans ignore the risks it could have for teachers, older employees and family members, said Michael Rhodes, a physician.
“I am very concerned that the current model of 90% capacity five days a week in the classroom is the setup for almost a guaranteed outbreak in our students and teachers,” Rhodes said.
He said smaller class sizes are needed.
Rhodes also shared concerns about coaches who encouraged students to adopt a “don’t tell, don’t test” policy so athletes can continue to compete.