For school students, April and May bring Spring Break and then testing with graduation that follows. This year will be different.
The unprecedented closure of Utah schools will continue beyond the current two-week break.
On Monday afternoon, Gov. Gary Herbert announced that Utah K-12 schools will extend their closures until May 1. That is just about three weeks before the first high school graduations were set to begin.
“These are unprecedented times in Utah’s and our nation’s history,” Herbert said in a press statement. “I have been overwhelmed with Utahns’ outpouring of support for one another, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the way our educators are supporting Utah students and families.”
Distance learning is to continue during the extended dismissal, where feasible, the statement said.
“We recognize that being away from school creates additional work and stress for everyone in our communities, however, it is a necessary step in stopping to spread of COVID-19,” said State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson in the release.
Utah closed public school functions March 16 on what was considered to be a soft closure. If the schools open on May 1, that will mean students will have missed 35 days of formal schooling.
“That’s crazy,” said Kimberly Parry Gardner, a math teacher at Dixon Middle School in Provo. “But, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Asked how remote teaching has been going for her and her students, she gave a mixed review.
“I’ve had a very successful week with a little over half of my students who have checked in,” Gardner said. “Others are not checking in online. I’m a math teacher and I worry most about kids not checking.”
The State Board of Education had already noted that Utah students in public elementary, middle and high schools will not take year-end standardized tests this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Utah’s decision follows other states including Texas and Washington that scrapped the tests required by the federal government.
Herbert said the March 16 plan was for learning to move online or through packets sent home, with each district devising its own plans.
About 667,000 children go to public schools in Utah, according to state figures.
“We’re not quarantining every child in the state of Utah,” Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said in the March 16 statement. “We still want you to go on walks to the park. ... We’re just avoiding these mass gatherings that will hopefully prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
Anita Ault, a Utah County resident, says she knows it’s hard for parents right now but knows it is the right thing to do given the circumstances.
“I work at a school and am a mother of a ninth grader and a college student. I think it’s a smart thing to have schools closed despite how hard it is for parents, teachers and students,” Ault said. “Stopping the spread of the virus right now should be a top priority.”
The May 1 date is not a given as issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are fluid and continue to be monitored.
Right now the State Board of Education expects schools to be:
1. Communicating regularly with students, families, staff and the larger school community.
2. Practicing routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures of commonly touched surfaces.
3. Maintaining an open line of communication with their local public health officer.
4. Intentionally and persistently combating stigma through information sharing. COVID-19 is not at all connected to race, ethnicity or nationality.
5. Actively engaging in contingency planning for the possibility of extended school closures, as was announced Monday.