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Districts starting school year facing physical and emotional health uncertainties

By Jared Lloyd - | Aug 29, 2021
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Instructional assistant Rebecca Eberhard helps a parent and student cross the road in front of Lakeview Elementary School in Provo as parents pick up their kids after the first day of school for the Provo City School District on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Students look for their parents at Lakeview Elementary School in Provo after school in the Provo City School District on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.
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Second grade teacher Rebecca Anderton waves to students at Lakeview Elementary School in Provo after the first day of school for the Provo City School District on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The 2021-22 school year has been underway for most of Utah Valley’s schools for a couple of weeks and students, teachers and staff are working to get things off on the right foot.

But it isn’t easy, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Strong voices decry the lack of safety measures to combat the virus such as mask mandates, especially since no vaccines have been approved for children under the age of 12 years old.

Equally strong voices on the other side decry the mental and emotional impact of those same measures, fearing other negative results as much or more than the virus itself.

Teachers and school districts often find themselves caught in a no-win situation.

“We see both sides and we understand both sides,” Caleb Price, spokesperson for the Provo City School District, said in a phone interview last week. “Everybody’s opinion is valid. We keep sharing the message that our hands are pretty tied when it comes to mask mandates and things like that. We have to follow the law that was put in place and work with our county health department and the county commissioners to make any changes along those lines. We’re doing everything we can as far as cleaning and encouraging masks and encouraging vaccinations, going as far as we can without requiring them. We’re working with the health department as much as we can.”

Communication during these times is vital, which is why Provo City School District, for example, has a dashboard on its website that is updated every day with case count numbers in its schools.

But there is also the mental and emotional strain that teachers, administrators, staff members and students are facing as pandemic-related concerns continue to cast shadows of concern.

Price hopes the foundation the Provo City School District has in place will be effective in helping both adults and students navigate the mental and emotional challenges.

“Even before COVID-19 hit, our district put an emphasis on social work and mental health,” Price said. “We probably have more social workers than most districts. We have almost one for every school. They are available for students and employees for any issues or needs that they might have. That has continued with COVID, where there is a heightened awareness about making sure employees and students are doing OK as far as mental health goes. It’s about providing services as much as we can if they need them.”

Price said all of the schools are aware of the potential problems that could be caused by the COVID-19 delta variant, which is why the district is making sure it stays on the same page as the Utah County Health Department.

“They are the group that will let us know if we reach the threshold that is set in the state law, which is 30 cases or 2% of student enrollment,” Price said. “If you hit that number, it enacts the testing protocol which the health department will help us with. We’ve tried to communicate as clearly as possible with our employees and with our parents what we are able to do and what we will do if we get to that point.”

Price also said Provo City School District is facing some pandemic-related staffing challenges, as are most school districts.

He said that while the district is getting students where they need to be, there is definitely a need for more bus drivers. He added that more teacher aides and paraprofessional-type part-time workers are needed to help out in the classrooms.

Anyone looking for more information on employment opportunities at the Provo City School District can go to http://provo.edu/employment-opportunities.

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