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Utah schools rely on remote learning amid COVID-19 surge, staffing shortages

Posted at 5:49 PM, Jan 13, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — Just hours before the pause on Utah’s Test to Stay program, hundreds of students were tested in schools, while others decided to go remote.

Ben Horsley with the Granite School District says they’re seeing a 20 percent infection rate with the new protocols, in the beginning of the program, they rarely saw any cases, so this is a big difference”

Late in the school day Thursday, the Test to Stay program was put on pause.

Read - Utah suspends school COVID-19 'test-to-stay' protocols

Mom Rebecca Pferdner, who has children enrolled at Olympus High School, said she felt it was a waste of resources to test right before a long holiday weekend.

“I just feel like it’s a waste to test today, because we are about to have a huge weekend, we have Friday and Monday off, and had they tested positive, they could be back in school Wednesday, so it did seem a bit silly to test today when they’re not even going to be in school,” said Pferdner.

She’s hoping kids continue to stay in person, because the alternative is much worse.

“I think all the time out of school is really hard on the kids I’ve noticed that my kids who do the best do the worst homeschooling. My kids don’t mind wearing a mask, it doesn’t bother them, they’d rather wear a mask and go to school,” said Pferdner.

In the Alpine School District, leaders opted to go remote even before the pause on test to stay was put in place.

Read - Three Salt Lake City High Schools move to virtual learning due to COVID-19

It’s not just the COVID-19 surge in students that’s buckling the system.

There are three main factors in going remote: the case surge, the amount of student absence, and the teacher shortage. Alpine School District has around 20 percent absenteeism of students.

“Today, we have 550 of our teachers absent, and of those absences, 216 of them were not filled with substitute teacher because we don’t have the substitutes. We just felt that we don’t have the critical mass right now to have in person school so we’re hoping this little five-day break will help us get back to face to face,” said David Stephenson, Alpine School District, Exec. Dir. Communications.

Read - Utah surge ongoing with 12,990 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

He says parents have been understanding, but at the end of the day, they all want the same thing, keeping kids in person.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to do this, we want kids face to face that’s our number one goal, but people are understanding and supportive,” said David Stephenson.

The Alpine School District will be remote Friday and Tuesday. After that, the plan is to go back to in-person learning.

The Jordan School District announced its going fully remote all of next week.

And in the Salt Lake City School District, three high schools that have all met the Test to Stay threshold are going virtual through Tuesday and hope to return Wednesday.