SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City School District has reached a deal with Utah lawmakers to return to in-person learning, ending a political battle over educator bonuses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school district announced it would propose returning to in-person classroom instruction effective Feb. 8. At the same time, teachers and staffers would be offered the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Jan. 8.
“Now that we know we can have COVID-19 vaccines for our educators and frontline school employees on January 8 and 9, 2021, I feel safe in making a recommendation to the Board to offer an in-person learning option for our secondary students starting on February 8, 2021," said interim schools superintendent Larry Madden in a statement late Friday.
"This timeline provides our secondary educators enough time to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second dose will be administered on Jan. 29 and 30, which means a start date of Feb. 8 gives our educators and employees the additional seven days needed for the vaccine to reach its full efficacy."
The proposal would be presented to the Salt Lake School Board at its Jan. 5 meeting.
It ends a political battle that erupted earlier this week when House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, blocked Salt Lake City schools from receiving the proposed $1,500 bonuses for teachers and $1,000 bonuses for staffers that were going to every educator in the state. The Speaker proposed it go to only those districts that had in-person or hybrid instruction.
That left the Salt Lake City out, the lone school district that is online-only because it is a COVID-19 hot spot. It has been the subject of parents' complaints, a lawsuit and the frustration of some lawmakers.
Speaking to reporters late Friday, Speaker Wilson said he was glad for the deal and it would not block Salt Lake City educators from receiving the money now.
"What our objective the whole time has been is to get our kids in school and give them the best education we can," Speaker Wilson said. "I’m really grateful for the superintendent and for the members of the school board working with us over the past couple of days to find a path forward to get all the kids in the Salt Lake school district with an in-person option. We’re also really glad to see money flow in these stipends to every educator in the state."
Speaker Wilson said it was an "intense couple of days" as politicians negotiated with the school district. Asked by FOX 13 if he used the teachers as pawns to negotiate a resolution with the school board, the Speaker acknowledged "this was a way to get everyone at the table."
"I'm glad it worked," he said.
The move does not put Salt Lake City teachers or anyone else ahead of health care workers on the vaccine priority list, the Speaker said.
The stipends were part of a massive education funding boost by the Utah State Legislature. Nearly $400 million will be going to public education in the 2021 legislative session. Lawmakers will vote on the stipends when they meet in January.