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Utah's largest school district back in the classroom next week

Posted at 9:17 PM, Aug 11, 2020

UTAH COUNTY — School is "in session" one week from Tuesday for Utah's largest school district.

Alpine School District, which has roughly 81,000 students, will begin instruction on Tuesday, August 18.

The district presented three options to students and families for back-to-school learning during COVID-19. According to Kimberly Bird, assistant to the superintendent at Alpine School District, more than 85 percent of declarations chose in-person learning for their students.

“Overwhelmingly, we have an interest to come back to school face-to-face,” said Bird. “We’ve got tens of thousands of students who have declared, which is nice. I think we have a good feel for what our schools and teachers can expect.”

The School District's plan was re-approved by the Utah County Health Department on August 3.

Some teachers attended Tuesday's school board meeting at Lehi High School to voice their concerns with the current back-to-school plan.

“We’ve been told to wear masks and social distance, not one or the other," said Gina Hemingway, a 6th grade teacher at Eagle Valley Elementary School.

Hemingway told FOX 13 that she would prefer a "hybrid approach" that other districts are doing that include a few days of in-person learning, with a few days of online learning.

“So right now our students are coming to school five days a week and we’ve been given one hour early out to work with online students. There is nothing in that plan which keeps students or teachers safe," she said.

Roughly 10 teachers and students attended the school board meeting to share their position on the upcoming school year.

“I don’t believe it is safe to have 40 to 45 students in a classroom where we cannot physical distance. We are literally sitting right next to each other and masks are not effective enough," said Laura Jones, a sophomore at Cedar Valley High School. Jones' mom is a teacher in the district. “I don’t feel they’ve put in the precautions to keep our teachers safe. Her class has 26 students and her classroom is nowhere near big enough for them to social distance as she’s said there’s only about 17 left to right and maybe three to four feet front to back."

Jones, a member of her school's student council, says that students' opinions and ideas haven't been taken into account when planning for the school year during the pandemic.

“Delay school start by two weeks, give us very clear metrics and let's look at equity as a big piece," said Steven Phelps, an organizer for Safe Utah Schools, who encouraged teachers to come and share their perspective with the board.

Phelps recently resigned at Alpine School District due to a lack of online-only teaching opportunities during the upcoming year. Phelps will be teaching this year for the Salt Lake City School District that is starting their school year virtually.

“We care about all of our employees. We believe that teaching is one of the greatest professions out there,” said Bird. “If a teacher is feeling like they do not feel comfortable coming back, number one I would say contact your principal.”

To learn more about the Alpine School District's plan, click here.