SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City School District Board of Education Thursday voted to begin the school year completely online.
The decision came after their last contentious meeting, in which board members pushed back the school year to September 8 but couldn't come to a consensus on how to move forward.
According to the plan, presented by interim Superintendent Larry Madden, all students will attend school virtually at the start of the year. The district will remain flexible and ready to transition back to in-person class when the COVID-19 numbers drop.
Madden told the board that teachers will begin working with students and parents prior to September 8, and will have students take an assessment test so that they can address any needs ahead of time.
A lone board member opposed the plan. Mike Nemelka said they are refusing to provide children with the most important aspect of childhood growth, and that teachers have no desire to help children in the district.
"I still believe that online teaching is a lazy way for teaching children K-12, and it's the least effective," he said.
Some board members expressed that they would have still liked to have given parents a choice between in-person and online learning, as many other school districts are doing.
However, everyone except Nemelka agreed in the end that Madden's plan was the best way to go.
"I love that it's rooted in science. I love that it's rooted in the recommendations from the CDC," said Board of Education Vice President Nate Salazar. "There are specific markers relative to how we define 'safe' in our district and our community, ultimately for our kids and our personnel."
"I also believe Superintendent Madden's plan is the best choice, and I think we'll realize that quickly," said board member Dr. Katherine Kennedy.
Under the plan, students can return to class once the positive test percent drops below 5% and when cases hit 10 in 100,000. In a press conference Thursday following the meeting, Madden said that right now Salt Lake City is at about 17 in 100,000.
When asked how the city would transition from online to in-person, Madden indicated that it would likely take place a juncture that allows for a smooth transition, such as during midterm or at the end of the quarter.
He also explained that the district would likely not go from fully online, to fully back to class. The district created a video that explains how they could handle a potential hybrid schedule of in-person and online.
Madden described how the district will train parents in how to use the online platform called Canvas. He said teachers have already been training, which puts them far ahead of where they were at in the spring.
"I know parents have concerns about online learning," he said. "Over the summer, we've had over 900 teachers get trained in our Canvas platform at a beginning level with it, and we've had over 400 that have taken intermediate and advanced courses in Canvas."
To make sure students can connect from home, Madden said they have thousands of laptops to hand out, 1,000 iPads, hundreds of hotspots, they're working with Comcast to provide additional connectivity, they have 10 mobile hotspot units that can be placed on buses or in buildings and eight schools have WiFi capability in the parking lot.
Board of Education President Melissa Ford said she knows the plan isn't perfect. She said she heard from constituents across the district who care deeply about having in-person instruction.
She said they care about that as well.
"We want our students back as soon as possible," she said. "And we feel that this slow and cautious start to the new year will allow us the opportunity to come back much sooner."
Click here to read the Salt Lake City School District restart plan.