SALT LAKE CITY — A month ago, Utah Senate Bill 107 was aimed directly at the Salt Lake City School District's refusal to go back to classrooms.
The bill would have allowed parents to take their children out of an online-only class to another school — public or private — that offers in-person classroom instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Money that would normally be intended for that school district would then follow the student to the new school.
But on Friday, S.B. 107 has been gutted and rewritten into an entirely new purpose.
“This is a 99 percent sub of all the language,” Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross) announced on the floor of the Senate Friday afternoon.
The new bill has nothing to do with the old bill and only shares the “S.B. 107” title with the former legislation because SLCSD is now back in the classroom thanks to the “Test to Stay” protocol.
The new legislation has a lot to do with that idea of testing students to stay in classrooms, ramping up testing ability in schools as well as setting a new threshold for when a “Test to Stay” protocol would be implemented.
In essence, it is a way to support schools across the state staying open and functional through the remainder of the pandemic.
“I think the intent is to keep more schools open. We’ve learned a lot since schools opened in August, and I think it's time to implement that new knowledge,” Weiler told FOX 13 after announcing the bill on the floor of the Senate.
The text of the new legislation reads, in part:
- requires the Department of Health to provide support to a local education agency (LEA) that initiates widespread COVID-19 testing for a school (test to stay program);
- requires that guidance that the Department of Health provides to LEAs related to test to stay programs complies with certain statutory provisions;
- establishes the case threshold in a school above which the LEA initiates a "test to 19 stay program" for the school; and
- enacts provisions related to a "test to stay program", including provisions related to 21 parental consent for COVID-19 testing for the parent's student.
In essence, it mandates that the Utah Department of Health assists schools implementing a “Test to Stay” protocol as well as setting the threshold at 2 percent of a student body testing positive for the entire school population to be tested to stay in school.
It is very uncommon to see a bill gutted and re-written in this fashion. However, with the initial reason for the bill unwarranted with SLC schools going back, Weiler applauded the district.
“I can’t praise the Salt Lake [City] School District enough for their efforts, and I believe we kept our commitment to the SLC School District,” he said. "This bill [now] targets all 41 school districts and all 100+ charter schools that are not online-only charter schools, and it's to help kids stay and school and graduate.”
The bill was met with immediate support on both sides of the aisle with several Democrats speaking in favor of it immediately and passing unanimously forward through the legislative session.
“The bill itself has been gutted and changed, and where we're headed is in the exact right direction,” Sen. Derek Kitchen (D-Salt Lake County) said in a press conference after Friday's session. “Good health policy is really important to the state of Utah coming from all corners, so I do feel optimistic that we will get this one done.”
Another Democrat speaking in support of the re-worked S.B. 107 was Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who is a teacher herself.
"Some of the language in this bill is exactly what our teachers were asking for," Riebe said.
One concern is the increased strain on the health department providing testing supplies for so many students if a “Test to Stay” protocol was started at any given school.
But Weiler addressed that by saying the Senate and legislature as a whole will give them support where they need it.
“We’re asking the Department of Health to do a lot during this pandemic, and helping them to help our students succeed is part of that," he added.