SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's public and charter schools will not re-open for the remainder of the school year, Governor Gary Herbert has announced.
"We’ve had to wrestle with the idea, do we bring our students back into school? Or do we continue with this soft closing?" the governor said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Appearing at a briefing with Utah State Schools Superintendent Sydnee Dickson, the governor said students would not return to class.
"I’ve come to the position to slow the spread and get back on our feet... this is not the time to have our schools back open," Gov. Herbert said.
Schools across Utah were closed on March 11 as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up. Students were forced to learn from home and teachers are working remotely. On Monday, FOX 13 reported that many school districts were preparing for the possibility they would not return to in-person classroom instruction this year.
"Nothing is normal about this situation," said Sydnee Dickson, the state schools superintendent.
She praised teachers, parents and students for adapting to what she called "the new now." She said Utah's public education leaders were continually evaluating the impact of the pandemic on learning and instruction. When schools closed, classrooms were forced to pivot to digital learning.
That will remain in effect through the rest of the school year, even though buildings will remain closed. Going forward, Superintendent Dickson said they would evaluate what resources need to be given to students who struggle with learning or are more vulnerable. They are also looking at the impact to parents and teachers and support staff.
"Certainly, we’ve heard from parents who felt ill-equipped at this time to engage in digital learning. We know that we can do a better job in supporting parents in the future with digital tools. What kind of professional support do our educators, our teachers, need?" she said.
The immediate impact is that high school graduations and other rites of passage are stalled. Superintendent Dickson said graduations will be virtual, and she encouraged students to talk to their school leaders about creative ways to make it happen. Some college-accessible testing has been postponed.
Asked about grading and evaluations for students, Superintendent Dickson said they are looking at "pass or incomplete" instead of pass or fail. Or using third semester grades.
"We’re saying do no harm, go easy, this is a stressful time," she said. "There's a lot of mitigating circumstances."
There are signs that Utah is starting to emerge from the novel coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 2,412 cases of COVID-19 in the state, out of 46,476 tests conducted. A 19th person, an immunocompromised man over the age of 60 in Utah County, died in a hospital. So far, 213 people have been hospitalized since the beginning of the outbreak.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said to have better data, they encouraged people with even mild suspected symptoms of COVID-19 to seek a test. Those symptoms include: cough, fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches, decreased sense of smell or taste and a sore throat.