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Districts close schools for first time in decades

Utah County students had the first snow day in their lifetimes on Monday.

School was canceled for more than 100,000 students in the Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts Monday morning, signaling the first snow-related school cancelation for Utah County schools in decades.

“Snow days are rare calls, especially in Alpine School District,” said Kimberly Bird, a spokeswoman for the district.

Bird said the district thinks Monday was its first snow day since 1993 or 1994.

Nebo School District last had a snow day closure in December 2010, and the Provo City School District believes it has been decades since it called one.

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City issued a hazardous weather outlook for the western two-thirds of the state, along with a winter storm warning that would be in place until 10 p.m. Monday.

Monday’s storm was anticipated to bring two to five inches of snow, with more along the benches and winds gusting at 40 mph.

The storm was expected to bring gusty winds and significant snow accumulation through the night. Snow was expected to be confined to the mountains and along the Interstate 15 corridor.

Cold temperatures are expected to stay through the middle of the week, with another storm bringing snow to northern Utah on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Alpine School District adopted a weather-related school closure policy late last year after the district came under fire earlier in the year for not declaring a snow day. The new policy allows the district to cancel school, release it early or declare a two-hour delay either district-wide or by high school clusters.

The policy states that Mondays would only have the option of a school closure due to students getting out early that day.

Bird said the district decided to cancel school district-wide due to safety. While students are located by cluster, Bird said the district’s employees come from across the Utah Valley.

“Even though students are our number one priority, so are our employees,” Bird said.

Bird said although the storm wasn’t as bad as expected, the district had to consider if they wanted to take a gamble and have buses potentially slide off the road.

“We feel confident, though, in the call,” she said. “We hope everyone understands the process.”

The district has a makeup day calendared into its schedule for the first day of spring break. Bird said the district’s superintendent might petition the state for an exemption to making up the day.

Weather can vary across the county, especially in the mountain benches.

In the Nebo School District, buses drive to high bench areas and canyons to pick up students.

“We have high bench areas that make it very difficult for our buses to pick up students safely,” said Lana Hiskey, a spokeswoman for the Nebo School District.

Hiskey said Nebo School District Superintendent Rick Nielsen personally began driving to each of the district’s high schools starting at 3 a.m. to look at conditions.

At 3 a.m., Hiskey said conditions didn’t look bad enough for a snow day. But at 5:30 a.m., conditions worsened, ice started forming and harsh winds began blowing.

“It is a hard thing to call,” she said.

Hiskey said the decision also factored in employee safety. The snow day will be made up on March 20.

Conditions were mostly dry in Provo Monday morning.

“The snow isn’t as bad in Provo as it was in other places, but the roads were still dangerous,” said Caleb Price, a spokesman for the Provo City School District.

The district began meeting about the weather conditions on Friday. District staff also met on Sunday night and early Monday morning to discuss conditions.

Price said the district also checked in with the Alpine and Nebo school districts to see what decisions they were making.

Price said Provo is unique in that the citywide school district includes benches on its east side that can have vastly different weather than in the valley. Price said the district could not make the decision to only close school in half of the city.

The district did not know as of Monday morning when the make-up school day for Monday’s closure will be. Price said the district will announce the day once the decision is made.

Both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University remained open Monday.

Bill regulating disposal of fetal remains moves forward with Senate committee approval

A bill sponsored by a Provo lawmaker that would regulate the way medical facilities dispose of the fetal remains of abortions and miscarriages is moving forward after it received a favorable recommendation from a State Senate committee.

Senate Bill 67, which is sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, would require that medical facilities either bury or cremate fetal remains, giving the woman who has the abortion or miscarriage the option of choosing the form of disposition.

Last Friday, the Senate Health and Human Services committee gave a substitute version of S.B. 67 a favorable recommendation on a 4-2 vote. The substitute of the bill made a number of changes, including extending the time frame for disposition and clarifying that cremation or burial would occur after the fetal remains had been examined by a pathologist.

This substitute bill also changes the way women would be informed of their choice to decide the way the fetal remains are disposed of. The revised bill makes it so they would be informed by a written statement as opposed to an oral discussion.

Bramble described S.B. 67 as “probably the most misunderstood bill” he has worked on in the Senate, adding that there is a misconception that the bill would force women to choose how the fetal remains are disposed of.

“What this bill does (is) it gives a woman a choice,” Bramble said, adding that it also requires medical facilities to “treat those remains with dignity and respect.” Facilities “may not include fetal remains with other biological, infectious, or pathological waste” during the cremation process, according to the bill’s text.

Friday’s committee meeting included emotional testimony from both supporters and opponents of the bill.

Utah County resident Alicia Alba spoke about a miscarriage she suffered in 2014 and how afterwards she was “haunted by the realization that my baby had likely been disposed of as medical waste.”

“There is no denying the humanity of the unborn after you have seen them face-to-face,” said Alba. “A person is truly a person, no matter how small.”

Alba said she supports S.B. 67 because it “strikes a perfect balance by requiring that every health care facility in Utah properly care for the tiny bodies in their care and that every mother be given the right and the opportunity to choose what will happen to the bodies of their lost little ones.”

Liz Miller, of Salt Lake County, said she opposed the bill, arguing that it would “exacerbate the already devastating loss of miscarriage and abortion and cause demonstrable harm to hundreds or thousands of women.”

“I cannot fathom the enormous insult to an already unbearable trauma by forcing a discussion regarding disposal would cause,” said Miller, who has had two miscarriages.

Multiple medical doctors spoke out against the proposed legislation, including Shawn Gurtcheff, a reproductive endocrinology specialist with the Utah Fertility Center, who said the bill would interfere with how doctors interact with their patients.

Gurtcheff called the bill’s substitute a “huge step in the right direction” but said “it still is a direct infringement on my ability to care for my patients.”

“Because it tells me what I have to say and when I have to say it,” Gurtcheff said, “whether it’s in writing or verbally.”

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, who voted against advancing S.B. 67 alongside Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, read a letter addressed to the committee written by Howard Sharp, a Utah-based obstetrician/gynecologist, who said it would be “extremely inappropriate to address the issue of whether they desired a cremation or burial if it was not requested by the person having the miscarriage.”

“My patients having a miscarriage or abortion want the space and freedom to make medical decisions that align with (the) vision of their family and their faith informed by counsel from their physician,” wrote Sharp. “In my experience it seems that this law aims to fix a problem that does not exist.”

Bramble said he sponsored the bill because women in Utah currently don’t have the option of choosing what happens to fetal remains. Utah Society of Pathology President Dylan Miller said this isn’t the case, and that every hospital he has worked for has a policy allowing for patients to regain custody of pathology specimens, including fetal remains.

“And that all exists today without legislation,” said Miller. “I think there’s an awareness problem (about those policies), but it’s not a legislation problem.”

Nebo School District opens new health center for employees

In an effort to combat skyrocketing health care costs, Nebo School District formally opened its new Health & Wellness Center on Jan. 27.

The center, located at 135 W. 300 South, Spanish Fork, will be accessible to the district’s approximately 1,600 insured employees and their dependents.

The center will offer basic health care services including care for infections and colds, sports and school physicals, immunizations and health and wellness exams.

The district has contracted with a company called CareHere to staff and operate the center. CareHere is a healthcare organization specializing in delivering innovative, quality and cost-effective primary care.

Making up the center’s staff are a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and a medical assistant.

Members of the district’s board of education are constantly struggling with the cost of insurance and how to provide the best benefits they can to district employees, said Ken Van Ausdal, human resource director for Nebo School District. Van Ausdal spoke during a ribbon-cutting ceremony held for the new center Jan. 24.

“Through this struggle, this vision came about to find a way that we can provide quality health care for the employees of the district at an affordable cost,” Van Ausdal said.

Ryan Kay, human resources coordinator for the district, said a visit to the center will cost employees $35. Any preventative services will be offered for free.

Patients will also be able to obtain a generic prescription through the center’s dispensary before they leave their appointment for $5.

“Every dollar that goes to insurance is a dollar that is taken out of the paycheck for a teacher,” Kay said. “This is our way to help control that and put the money back to our most important asset, our teachers.”

The new center will also help attract talented staff to the district as it is unusual for a school district to have its own onsite clinic for employees, Kay said.

The district has considered creating a health center for its employees for 10 years; plans became more concrete during the last three years. Half of a warehouse located behind the district’s offices was renovated to house the new 1,500-square-foot center. The other half of the warehouse was renovated to house several training classrooms for district employees. That area opened last fall.

“We’re excited for our employees,” said Nebo School District Board of Education Member R. Dean Rowley during the ribbon-cutting event. “We know it will be a great benefit to them, and that’s really why we’re here and that’s really why we did it.”

Majority of Utahns support removing clergy exemption for reporting child abuse, poll finds

More than three-quarters of Utahns support legislation to remove reporting exemptions for clergy and other religious leaders who learn about abuse during a religious confession, a new poll has found.

The poll was conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune and Suffolk University between Jan. 18-22. Of all respondents, 67% said they “strongly support” legislation removing clergy exemptions for reporting child abuse while 11.2% said they “somewhat support” such legislation.

Only 7% of respondents said they were “strongly opposed” to legislation removing reporting exemptions for religious leaders and 4.4% said they were “somewhat opposed.” 10.4% of respondents said they didn’t know how they felt. The poll included 500 respondents and has a margin of error of 4.4%.

While Utah law mandates that any adult who learns about child abuse report it to legal authorities, there is an exemption for religious leaders who learn about abuse from a perpetrator during a confidential confession. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring a bill, House Bill 90, to remove this exemption.

“For me, this is really about protecting children,” Romero told the Daily Herald in January, adding that the bill is in the “best interest of all Utahns.”

The poll included a breakdown of how Utahns of different religious affiliations responded.

Of all Catholics who responded to the poll, 77% said they either strongly or somewhat supported legislation to remove the clergy reporting exemption. 9% said they either strongly or somewhat opposed such legislation and 14% said they didn’t know.

Nearly three-quarters of “very active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 73%, said they supported removing clergy exemptions while 14% said they opposed it and 12% said they didn’t know.

The same percentage of Protestants voiced support while 16% voiced opposition and 10% said they didn’t know.

The greatest percentage of support for a bill like Romero’s comes from Utahns without a religious affiliation, 91% of whom said they supported removing reporting exemptions. Only 4% of respondents said they opposed it.

The bill has faced opposition, most notably from the New York City-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. President Bill Donahue said removing the clergy reporting exemption would force priests to either break the seal of confession or face criminal penalty.

“No one’s going to go to confession if they think that what they say to the priest in his confidence could wind up on the front page the next day,” Donahue said, adding that he felt Romero’s bill was “outrageous from a First Amendment (and) religious liberties standpoint” and that he would be prepared to go to court if it became law.

The Catholic League urged those subscribed to its email list to contact House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and voice their opposition to H.B. 90. Wilson responded to those who emailed him saying he did not support Romero’s bill, according to a Catholic League press release.

“I have serious concerns about this bill and the effects it could have on religious leaders as well as their ability to counsel members of their congregation,” Wilson wrote. “I do not support this bill in its current form and — unless significant changes are made to ensure the protection of religious liberties — I will be voting against the bill.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has yet to take a position on the bill. The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City took a few weeks to review the bill but eventually came out in opposition.

In a column published in Intermountain Catholic on Jan. 17, Jean Hill, the government liaison for the Salt Lake City diocese, said the “motivation for the bill is understandable” but that it “places a Catholic priest in the untenable position of violating state law and facing criminal penalties, or violating Canon law and facing excommunication.”

“H.B. 90 is a bad law that does nothing to protect children and undermines the very real possibility that a sex offender might repent, thus allowing the priest to counsel him/her to seek help from police and trained personnel, making the world a bit safer for vulnerable children,” Hill wrote.

The bill was introduced in the House but has yet to be debated or voted on.