SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah — The Alpine School District has approved its plan to get students back in the classroom for the 2020-2021 school year.
Members of the board voted 6-1 in favor of the plan after listening to public comment from hundreds of parents.
The plan will have students attend school Monday through Friday on a “modified” schedule, which subtracts one hour from the end of the school day. There is also an option for parents to have their children stay online if they prefer.
“It’s really important that we allow parents to make the choice,” said board member Scott Carlson.
Students will be required to wear a mask in the classroom and on the school bus.
Julie King was the only board member to vote against the plan, stating she was in favor of only allowing half of each school’s total students on campus at a time.
Many parents expressed anger or disappointment with the decision – some because they feel like the plan is unsafe, others because they don’t feel like their children should have to wear a mask.
More than 300 people submitted public comments in writing. The Alpine School District compiled the comments on a 61-page document that can be found here.
Oliver Abbott, a 5th grade teacher at Rocky Mountain Elementary, was not happy with the plan.
“I was looking forward to the release of Alpine’s plan, excited to learn what steps we would be taking to allow me back into my classroom with my students, but this plan has me considering taking the year off or even looking for a new career,” Abbott wrote. “This plan won’t keep us safe, and it is an entirely unacceptable burden it asks teachers to shoulder. Please go back to the drawing board. I appreciate the complexity and difficulty in finding a plan that works for everyone and every need, but this plan isn’t it.”
Approximately 100 people attended the meeting in person, many applauding as parents approached the microphone to ask members of the board to remove the mask mandate for their children.
“I know six kids with COVID right now. Literally nothing more than a fever! Nothing more than a fever!” one mother shouted. “They literally are not even being affected!”
“Asking kids to sit next to each other for seven hours a day wearing just a mask is not enough protection,” one father countered.
“Wearing masks and social distancing I do not agree with,” said another mother. “You allowed exemptions for vaccinations and such, I hope you also do the same for masks.”
One father threatened to take his children out of school and place them into homeschooling if they are required to wear a mask.
“I have yet to wear a mask in Salt Lake City. I buy things for my business every day,” he said. “We’re not going to be told to wear masks. If we are, we’ll go somewhere else… It’s teaching our kids to be submissive!”
The Alpine School District promised to work with the Utah County Health Department as the pandemic develops to determine whether they need to pivot to a backup plan.
“We have a plan, but we also have two other plans that are ready to go,” said Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Bromley.
One of the alternative plans would allow half of students on campus at a time. The other alternative plan would go back to fully online learning for all students.
A survey conducted by the Alpine School District in June indicated the majority of parents within the district would be willing to send their kids back to school. A similar survey has yet to be conducted in July, as Utah started seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases.
“I need assurances from the Utah Department of Health before I can approve this,” said board member Ada Wilson, who was initially hesitant. “The data is very important to me, as far as what our positivity rates are and what the trends are.”
Members of the crowd started yelling at her.
“What data?!” some people yelled.
“Put your mask on!” another woman screamed. “If you want it for the kids, you put it on and set an example!”
“I thank you so much that you are willing to be here tonight,” Wilson calmly responded.
The district also plans to allow students to participate in fall athletics.
The first day of school is scheduled for August 18.