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Online schools see increased interest, enrollment as COVID-19 cases rise in Utah

Posted at 5:30 PM, Jul 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 20:19:40-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah schools are beginning to release re-opening plans for the upcoming school year.

Each district has an individual plan, many with options based on what risk level the state is in when school starts.

The Salt Lake City School District announced that if the city remains at the "orange" COVID-19 risk phase, all learning will be done remotely.

Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert announced masks will be required in all schools.

The uncertainty of what’s next has caused more parents to explore public schools in Utah that are fully online, Mountain Heights Academy Principal Dr. DeLaina Tonks said.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in enrollment due to the crisis schooling our poor teachers and families were thrown into in March,” she said.

Mountain Heights Academy is a public online charter school, which means there is a cap on the number of students the school can have.

“We may very well hit our cap if we continue to get the number of students coming in per day that we have for the past couple of weeks,” Dr. Tonks said.

There are three fully-online charter schools in Utah, and one fully-online public school that is part of the Washington County School District.

Meghan Merideth, the Head of School for Utah Virtual Academy, said in the past few weeks they have seen a major increase in enrollment leading them to hitting their enrollment cap in July, which is unheard of. The school has now moved to a wait list.

Online schooling can be done, and can be done well, Merideth said. It just takes experienced individuals and the right curriculum.

“When we have a teacher that is a new hire that comes from a brick and mortar school, it probably takes a good year for them to feel fully comfortable with the tools in an online environment,” she said.

Having a consistent system that has been tried and tested is what makes online schooling work, Utah Online High School counselor Krista Winward said.

“We have been doing this for 15 years, so really our teachers are experts in online education and they are prepared with their curriculum,” she said.

While many parents complained they felt as if they were ‘homeschooling’ during distance learning last school year, the Director of Online Education for the Washington County School District said parents won’t feel that way with Utah Online School.

“We have a mentor that goes with every student and supports them, so they have two adults for every course,” Laura Belnap said.

While there were challenges faced during the pandemic, Belnap said it was nothing like the traditional boundary schools had to face. Online school is not a new concept, but a growing one, she said.

“If you had 100 students, there would be 100 different reasons they schooled online,” Belnap said.

For the latest information from the Utah State Board of Education, click here.

For a look at statewide re-opening guidance from the state board, click here.

For the latest COVID-19 information in Utah, click here.