ST. GEORGE — There’s no question that parents, students, teachers and administrators want schools open in the fall. Remote learning in the spring showed just how important the in-person connection is to both students and teachers. Many parents also rely on school for essential day care.
But as the first day of school nears, the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the state.
As a result, and in order to move forward with reopening schools, Gov. Gary Herbert announced during a press conference Thursday afternoon that all K-12 students, faculty, staff and visitors will be mandated to wear masks or face coverings in school and on buses statewide.
Steven Dunham, Washington County School District communications director, told St. George News that this mandate will cause changes to their reopening plan as they work to implement the mandate.
“We’re a government entity, so we have to abide by the governor’s directives,” he said.
Dunham said the district is hopeful that parents will work with their kids to get them comfortable wearing the masks. He hoped, too, that parents would understand the importance of this safety measure as a way to avoid tighter restrictions or having to close schools before they even get them started.
And while it may be challenging, Dunham said he thinks students will rise to the occasion.
“Our teachers are amazing in working with students and helping them grow accustomed to new challenges in the classroom,” he said. “We hope that parents will be supportive of this initiative and support our teachers as they work toward a common goal in keeping schools open and keeping children in the classroom.”
As Tuesday approaches, the district will be working hard to have a comprehensive plan.
“We have been working nonstop on our reopening plan, so our board of education will be ready to make some decisions on Tuesday. We will continue to work to implement the governor’s directives into those plans.”
Jessica Richards, a Hurricane resident and single mother of a 6-year-old daughter set to begin kindergarten in the fall, told St. George News that she has a lot of questions when it comes to her daughter being mandated to wear a mask when she goes to school.
“If the masks are all day, what other activities and extracurriculars will be effected by this,” she asked. “Will masks be provided on the bus or only in schools? How do they expect our children to wear masks all day without touching their faces or messing with it in general?”
When it comes to younger children, she said she thinks masks are unnecessary and is looking into other options for schooling.
“You can’t keep them from coughing in their mask or chewing on it or messing with it or losing it or so on,” she said. “I am looking into a home-schooling option for my daughter. I was so excited for her to attend school this year, but not like this. Denying children simple things like lunch together or recess and class activities isn’t what I want for my soon to be 6-year-old.”
Having a choice in the matter could have relieved some of the concern she said other parents like her are feeling.
Related to this, the governor did say there would be some flexibility given to school boards and principals to accommodate younger children.
“We call on those local leaders to use common sense in the flexibility they use,” he said in a Tweet after the press conference.
Kristan Norton, a local fifth grade teacher, told St. George News that though it will be a challenge, she considers wearing face masks a way to move forward.
“It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just going to be another thing we have to adapt to in our new world,” she said. “But if this gets us to the new world faster, then it’s worth it. Let’s get to normal as fast as we can. And more importantly, let’s keep as many people as safe as we can.”
Learning to adapt to the environment is a part of school, and she plans to use education as a tool for helping her students find more comfort and understanding in having to wear a mask.
“Education will be the first strategy I use,” she said. “In my classroom, I believe in positive reinforcement, so that will be the second thing. There will be a lot of, ‘Good job. Way to go. Look at us, we’re doing the right thing.’ Just really try to help them feel a sense of accomplishment when they are wearing masks.”
She said the main thing she has heard other teachers hoping for is to have face shields rather than masks.
“Just because that might help with the communication with students better,” she said. “And I know that will most likely be an option.”
While the governor’s announcement has left many people with questions, the district is expected to release their reopening plan on Tuesday, which will provide a clearer illustration of what schools will look like come August.
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