K-12 schools across the state dismissed for two weeks to prevent spread of COVID-19

Washington County School District office in St. George, Utah, on July 25, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Gov. Gary Herbert has announced the dismissal of all public K-12 schools throughout the state for at least two weeks starting on Monday.

The move was described as a soft closing, as the campuses themselves will remain open with some staff. Local districts will also have the option to continue meal programs, tutoring where needed, services for children with disabilities and online education options.

“This is a soft closure of all Utah public schools as of Monday for two weeks. During this time, schools will still provide meals for students,” Hebert said during the press conference at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City. “This is a health issue. We want education to continue, but we want to do it in a way to protect the people of Utah.”

The governor said the decision will be reassessed in two weeks.

“I want to be clear, this is a preventative measure,” Hebert said. “Acting early is better than acting late.”

Just after the governor’s announcement, administrative leaders of both the Washington County and Iron County school districts went into meetings to determine their next steps. Washington County schools were already scheduled to begin their spring break on Monday, while Iron County was scheduled to be in session until their spring break April 13-17.

Dunham said Washington County administrators and those with other districts were in a conference call with state leaders at noon Friday before the announcement, and were preparing for weeks for the possibility of closure.

Spring break was supposed to end on March 23, but instead, Washington County students will begin a form of online or remote instruction at home on March 25, Steve Dunham, spokesperson for the WCSD, said.

“Students will stay at home, teachers will be in the building,” Dunham said. “That’s the game plan right now.”

Tentative plans have what’s being called “remote instruction” continuing through at least March 27 before the state reassesses the statewide school dismissal.

An email to teachers Friday afternoon instructed them to report to campus on March 23 for two days of preparation for online instruction. Dunham said classes will not necessarily be a live, online instruction situation.

“It will be a hybrid of things. It might be learning packets students will be able to come in and pick up with additional remote instruction. It is very fluid and teachers are going to be available.”

Dunham also said the district will take into account households that may not have access to online means for instruction. “This is one of the things we are still working through, but we are also looking at opportunities for parents to come in and check out packets or rent equipment,” Dunham said. “It’s an evolving situation where we need our parents and students and employees to be flexible and adapt to these changes.”

Washington County schools will resume student meal programs on March 23, though students will be asked to “grab-and-go” for their breakfast and lunches. Times will be communicated to parents through email and the district website.

“It will be grab and go but not necessarily at every school. There may be specific locations,” Dunham said. 

The district also announced that kindergarten registration will be postponed until further notice.

Washington Fields Intermediate in Washington, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Washington County School District, St. George News

Dunham said parents and teachers will be informed by email and through the district website at www.washk12.org of campus plans. However, teachers have been told to prepare to conduct online instruction to students at home when spring break ends.

Iron County officials were unavailable for comment Friday as they were still in meetings to determine their next steps.

The Iron County District’s Twitter page announced it will also be moving to online instruction with students staying home. Facilities will remain open as of Monday, but only staff will be on site to prepare for online instruction. The plan is for online classes to begin March 20.

Information will be emailed to parents and through the Iron County School District website at www.irondistrict.org.

Cedar North Elementary School artist rendering, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Iron County School District, St. George News / Cedar City News

Sydnee Dickson, Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said during the Salt Lake City press conference that the move was preventative. Some community leaders were resistant to school closures because they might place a hardship on working parents and needy families that rely on the meal programs.

“We understand this two week dismissal is going to be rough,” Dickson said. “We’re not shutting down schools, we’re not closing schools, we are not instructing.” 

However, Dickson said the guidance being given to school districts is to keep the doors open, but not act as daycare centers.

This is not a space where kids are dropped off if they have nowhere to go,” Dickson said. 

State officials said at the press conference that the plan is to continue paying teachers and staff through the dismissal period. Washington County has already communicated to their teachers that they will continue to be paid through any closure based on COVID-19 prevention.

“There will be no financial impact for employees,” Dunham said. “We’re looking at opportunities where everyone can assist in some way.”

COVID-19 information resources

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!