CACHE COUNTY, Utah — An unprecedented amount of student and staff absences has the Cache County School District shifting its school schedule.
Earlier this week, the district announced that all schools will be releasing 45 minutes earlier, beginning on Monday.
Curtis Benjamin, the Northern Utah UniServ Regional Director for the Utah Education Association, says the shift means an adjustment for parents, students and teachers.
"Speaking for teachers, they will definitely be adjusting their schedules and their curriculum to fit into the shorter instructional time," said Benjamin.
For the nearly 1,000 teachers in the district, they will ultimately lose 45 minutes on in-person instruction when their students leave early. However, they will gain more time when it comes to planning.
"Teachers will remain, and that will give them a chance to update Canvas, to check in on students who weren’t there," said Benjamin.
The district pointed earlier this week to high absentee rates as one reason behind the schedule change.
In a letter addressed to employees and parents on Tuesday, Cache County Schools said those rates were between 9-17 percent for elementary schools and 19-31 percent for secondary schools.
What makes the change a little easier, the district says, is they've been on this kind of schedule before.
"This is a schedule we ran last year. It is a schedule our staff and students are familiar with and our parents, so switching back to it, there are some minor adjustments," said district spokesman Tim Smith.
The change will impact the nearly 20,000 students in the school district.
FOX 13 News asked if there is any worry about students falling behind, with less time spent in the classroom.
"You may take in a secondary school and have four or five minutes less in a class period, but what we are gaining is the ability for teachers to reach out and help students who have been absent, so you are always weighing those two sides of things," said Smith.
Those who represent the teachers say this will help relieve the additional workload they have had to take on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The fact that the district has heard teachers, heard educators and the burden they are feeling — particularly teaching during a pandemic — and to come back and allowing us the 45 minutes, is really appreciated," said Benjamin.
The district says they will continue to keep an eye on their COVID cases and absentee rates.
They say they will reevaluate the shorter school schedule near the end of the trimester for their secondary schools. That would be in late February or early March.
The Alpine School District also looked to make a similar change, but releasing one hour earlier. Their Board of Education voted on Tuesday in favor of that decision. However, the following day, they decided to put that on hold.
FOX 13 News reached out to the district on Friday. David Stephenson with Alpine's communication department says they will continue to study and review the factors tied to current employee fatigue so that solutions can better address these concerns.
Stephenson added that a summary of the findings from employee feedback will be shared at the regularly scheduled board meeting on Feb. 8.