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Utah suspends test to stay protocols in schools

By Ashtyn Asay - | Jan 13, 2022

Emily Anderson, Standard-Examiner file photo

A nurse at Syracuse High School motions for a student to be tested for COVID-19 at her table as part of the "Test to Stay" program on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

With Gov. Spencer Cox’s announcement suspending COVID-19 “test to stay” protocols, and a spike in omicron cases, Utah County school districts are struggling to staff schools and figure out what comes next.

The state suspended test to stay protocols Thursday in a letter from Cox, State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson, House Speaker Brad Wilson, and Senate President J. Stuart Adams, addressed to school districts and charter schools.

Test to stay protocols can be enacted when a school with fewer than 1,500 students has 30 students test positive for COVID-19, or a school with 1,500 or more students has 2% of its students test positive for COVID-19. At that point, students who test negative for COVID-19 are allowed to continue in-person learning, and students who test positive or decline to be tested must remain home and quarantine.

The suspension of test to stay means that school districts in Utah have more discretion in whether or not to move to online learning.

According to Caleb Price, the director of communications for Provo City School District, the school district has not yet finalized new protocols in response to the suspension. However, he believes that once schools hit the threshold that would have warranted a test to stay event, that could be the point at which the school district considers switching to online learning.

“Back with the test to stay protocols, that was kind of the trigger point to start looking at moving online, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that the numbers will stay fairly similar,” Price said. “Once we hit a certain point, hit that threshold that would have triggered test to stay, that would probably be the point where we start looking at online.”

As of Thursday evening, Provo City School District reported 207 positive COVID-19 cases out of 13,956 total students.

In a message from the superintendent addressed to members of the Provo City School District, Superintendent Keith Rittel stated that although the school district is not yet at the point where they cannot accommodate in-person learning, it is could be soon.

“You may have seen in the news that some other local districts are announcing online learning days. We have not yet arrived at the point where we cannot run school, but we are getting close.” Rittel wrote Wednesday. “On Monday, we were one ill bus driver away from not being able to transport our students. On Tuesday, Provo High School had three ill assistant principals. Also on Tuesday, one of our elementary schools had over 120 student absences. Today, we had 79 teachers across the district report that they are ill. With a total teaching force of around 820, that is almost a 10% absence rate.”

Provo City School District is not the only school district in Utah County with an abnormally high number of ill and absent staff members. According to David Stephenson, executive director of external relations and communications, Alpine School District had 550 teachers absent on Thursday, leaving 216 classrooms without substitutes.

Students without substitute teachers were taught by teacher aides, assistant principals, and otherwise accommodated. No students were sent home because their teacher was absent.

Alpine School District reported 1,228 active cases of COVID-19 at the time of this article, with a total student body of 83,796. The school district has opted to move to at-home learning on Friday and Tuesday, giving students and faculty five days at home in the hope of reducing the number of active cases of COVID-19.

“We’re hoping that’s going to get us to where those numbers will go down,” Stephenson said. “We’re so grateful to parents and to our employees, we appreciate their understanding and their cooperation.”

Representatives from Nebo School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the state’s announcement.

However, Nebo Communications Administrator Lana Hsikey wrote in an email before the announcement, “Nebo sent a ‘Heads Up’ Letter to parents with the possibility of ‘Test to Stay’ to four of our six high schools out of 46 schools. We are hoping with no school [Friday] and Monday that the counts will go down so we will not have to implement ‘Test to Stay.’ We truly appreciate all our families, students, and employees for all they are doing to try to keep each other safe and at school.”

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