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Salt Lake City School District trying to bridge online learning gaps

Posted at 10:39 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 11:33:06-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Early statistics show that a large number of students in the Salt Lake City School District are not attending virtual classes.

The district has moved all instruction online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numbers provided by the district at Tuesday’s school board meeting indicated that on that specific day, only 9,000 of the district’s 20,995 students signed in to the learning portal.

The district says that number is a bit misleading and doesn’t paint a clear picture.

“If a student logged in on Monday and didn’t log out of canvas and just opened up their computer the next day, they were not counted,” said Yándary Chatwin, spokesperson for the Salt Lake City School District.

The district said, since the start of the school year, more than 18,000 individual students have logged in.

That still shows a gap of about 3,000 children who have not yet attended classes online.

The district acknowledged that 700 high school students do not have access to a device like a computer or iPad that would allow them to connect with their school.

Efforts are being made to acquire the technology to meet the needs of students, but several members of the school board are concerned the current system isn’t working for some students.

“I really am alarmed at how many students aren’t able to access,” said board president Melissa Ford. “We need a plan. We can’t leave kids behind.”

Some members of the board expressed interest in revisiting the metrics the district set that must be met before a return to in person learning.

In July, the board decided that students would not return to the classroom until Salt Lake County’s positive COVID-19 testing rate fell to 5 percent and the per capita case rate fell below 10 cases per 100,000 residents per day. Those numbers would have to be sustained for sever consecutive days.

Currently, the positive test rate in the county is hovering around 9 percent. On Tuesday, the county reported 24 cases per 100,000 residents.

Next week, interim superintendent Larry Madden will meet with the Salt Lake County Health Department to discuss if the requirements for returning to the classroom still make sense.

Some members of the board believe the district should proceed with caution to protect students, staff and their families.

“We are keeping people safe. We are keeping people alive in fact, by keeping people at home. And that’s why we are doing this,” said board member Katherine Kennedy.

Even if the district meets the requirements -- or the requirements are lowered – a return to in person learning wouldn’t happen until late October at the earliest.

As the adults on the board try to balance public health with education, the board’s student member articulated exactly what is at stake.

“One student left behind is a failure for all of us,” Arundhati Oommen said.