School meal programs aiding thousands through difficult times

Nutrition workers at Centennial Elementary School in Orem pass out meals on Thursday, April 2, 2020.

A funny thing happened on the way to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s sweeping announcement earlier this week canceling the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, and all its related activities, while waving the white flag of extreme caution in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nowhere to be heard, at least to our ears, was the Alice Cooper anthem “School’s Out.” We don’t know about you, but when the last couple weeks of May roll around every year, and graduation ceremonies abound throughout Utah County, Cooper’s celebratory ode to the end of another academic year is a veritable staple on local radio, or via witty references on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Not this year. We imagine there’s a good reason for that as there appears to be little to celebrate in the direct aftermath of Herbert’s decree. Desperate times, one might say with the turn of a phrase, call for disparate measures.

Online learning will continue during the school closure, sure. But did Herbert make the right call at the right time by shuttering school classrooms for the remainder of this year?

Children, parents and families will certainly feel the void of missed opportunities in the years ahead — both in a curricular and extracurricular sense. Sports is one obvious example. Some youth have been working, practicing and building toward their senior seasons, devoting themselves not only as individuals but as teams, only to see them entirely wiped out.

Sports affects just one swath of high school students. But just as memorable are once-in-a-lifetime events such as graduation ceremonies or even prom. Will someone’s creativity be forever stymied in the lost wake of a positive reaction to a completely over-the-top, unique prom invitation? OK, maybe not. We guess karma quotient will be balanced out by the lack of negative reaction to a prom invite denied.

What about students who will never really finish coursework they were taking during this now lost term? Sure, unilateral credit can just be given — but what about the level of understanding and concept-by-concept nature of learning needed to continue studying these subjects on more advanced levels?

Looking at things through an out-of-school lens, many families with working parents will be affected in terms of making sure those children are now cared for during many additional days they would have otherwise been in school. Granted, many people have no doubt adapted to some of these issues during these “Stay Home, Stay Safe” days. But pretty soon, most of those parents who have been working from home will be returning to their place of employment and normal work schedule.

In the face of adversity, we also have seen many positives emerge. People pulling together, minds meeting for good causes. People seeing needs, and working out ways to counteract them.

When it comes to inspiring actions, look no further than the school meals program outlined in a story by Herald reporter Jared Lloyd this week. Utah County’s three school districts, encompassing a total of 151 schools, have served more than 716,000 meals during the time school has been out, just to make sure no kids went hungry.

But when it’s all said and done, we believe Herbert did make the right call to turn out the lights on this school year. Throughout the pandemic, Herbert has shown a steady hand of leadership. Despite receiving some criticism for not issuing a stay-at-home order, the governor continued acting in the best interest of Utah. Getting out in front of the virus’s curve, enacting bold steps before many even realized they were needed and for the most part, acting in the state’s best interest to thwart the pandemic’s effect rather than reacting when it likely would have been too late.

Herbert has exercised an abundance of caution throughout the pandemic, and the order to close schools for the year fits that same approach. The governor certainly kept his eye on the prize, which is the safety and well-being of Utah’s children.

Agree or disagree with the timing of his announcement, but it seems obvious this is the safe call when it comes to our schoolchildren.

Now it will be up to the governor, his education advisers and more specifically individual school districts and teachers to help us see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many children will not be getting the same level of education in the time ahead that they would have received in class. It will be important for all educators to intently gaze down the road — to next September and beyond — with specific strategies on how they’re going to bring kids back up to speed.

There will be a steep learning curve — one which also will need to be flattened.