Schools remain closed despite yellow guidelines; Leaders discuss improvements, reopening

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ST. GEORGE — While most of Utah switched to the yellow, low-risk coronavirus level on Saturday, Gov. Gary Herbert said schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year, the one exception to the guidelines.

Under the yellow, low-risk phased guidelines, schools are shown to reopen but with hygienic and social distancing measures still in place.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, told St. George News on Monday that one of the reasons for this exception has to do with timing.

“The school is the one exception, and that’s probably because we’re so close to the end of the (school) year that the recommendation was, ‘Let’s just carry on as normal with the schools closed, finish of the year and see what the fall brings.'”

In light of the uncertainty, both K-12 schools and universities have been preparing for in-class and online learning tracks to start in the fall. When Southern Utah universities or K-12 public schools will be open for in-class attendance is still up in the air.

Students at the 17th annual “Hero Day” assembly at Washington Elementary, Sept. 11, 2019, Washington, Utah | Photo by Andrew Pinckney, St. George News

“This could go anywhere,” Heaton said. “A lot depends on what happens with the virus over the summer. Either way is possible.”

Specific guidelines for reopening schools really has to do with the virus’s activity during that time.

“If we go to green then we would actually be in good shape, where schools could start … the way they used to,” he said. “If we’re still in yellow by the fall, schools probably could open possibly, and then we would probably have guidelines updated by then as far as symptom checking, sanitizing, social distancing. But again, there’s no way to tell. We kind of go on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.”

If schools stay closed, he said both the schools and the health department are prepared to handle it.

Heaton also noted that there is a difference between reopening universities compared to reopening elementary schools due to student ages and other factors concerning how well social distancing measures can be maintained.

As far as schools opening for summer classes, there is still a chance for summer class opportunities.

Sewing masks at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The yellow guidelines would allow summer educational opportunities to take place,” he said. “But I think that’s, again, between what type of school it is and what the state recommendations are, the age groups, whether it’s techs or colleges.”

On a national level, college presidents across the United States digitally met with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to discuss what schools need in order to reopen in the fall, which brought up concerns of legality issues, according to an Inside Higher Ed article.

The problem centers around the inconsistency of standards and that there are no established best practices in regard to responding to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the Inside Higher Ed article cited Larry Leroy Tyner Jr. as saying. Tyner was testifying on behalf of the American Council on Education.

Some colleges are worried about being sued and were looking for liability protection in the case of reopening, especially smaller schools that won’t be able to perform the extensive testing of students as larger universities are proposing to do.

In response to this article, Kansas Husker, shown as an online adjunct, said:

One thing for (sure) is gone: Gone will be the pictures of the campus and of students walking around mingling with each other. If you see a picture of two students and a professor together hovered around a computer or giving a presentation, you will automatically become skeptical. Why? One can see that it was pre-covid because where is the mask and the six feet social distancing?

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

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