Utah school leaders: time for community to support back to school

Aug 10, 2020, 11:05 AM | Updated: Aug 11, 2020, 10:17 am
COVID-19 anxiety utah back to school...
(Photo: KSL NewsRadio)
(Photo: KSL NewsRadio)

Washington School District will be the first public school district in Utah to go back to school, and class starts this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Many other Utah school districts start next week.

Utah education leaders say now is the time for the community to get together and support teachers headed back to school.

“There’s this heavy load on our school system, and teachers are right there in the classroom on the front line,” said State K-12 Superintendent of Public Schools, Sydnee Dickson. “They might not have everything they need, or feel that they need. But what they need more than anything is our community support and our collective support.”

Related content: Utah’s 41 school districts unveil reopening plans for fall

“There was a feeling a few months ago that we were in this together, that we were united for the sake of our students. I worry that this feeling of unity has begun to — is starting to unravel,” said Tami Pyfer, Governor Gary Herbert’s education policy advisor.

Preparing for back to school in Utah

Dickson told KSL TV education officials have spent millions of dollars and months of work over the summer. And others echo that, saying it has been a summer of training and preparation.

“We’ve seen teachers working all summer in collaboration, supporting each other, figuring out ways to better support kids in a remote learning situation or a blended learning situation,”said Trenton Goble, VP of K-12 Strategy for Canvas.

Canvas is the online system that some schools will be using a lot more of for their remote learners.

“I think there’s a big difference from looking at it that we’ve got to get through the end of the year to this is the beginning of the year,” said Goble.

Dickson says social interaction will be different for those going to school. It may feel sterile in the cleanliness. The closures in the spring came with toxic stresses and losses. As a result, there will be more emphasis on social emotional learning in the fall.

Safety steps

Dickson said everyone from families and students to educators and staff have to do their part to stay safe.

“Wear masks, distance, and use proper hygiene. If could all do those things as citizens of things, we could make a difference in the safety of our students and teachers getting back to school,” said Dickson.

The state purchased masks and face shields and other PPE for schools.

One doctor, who is also a parent, talked more about how taking the right steps can alleviate fears. Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease expert at Intermountain Healthcare, has four children in the Canyons School District.

Webb said first responders felt uncertainty and fear during the beginning of the pandemic in Utah. But they took the right steps to protect themselves, through mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing. Now the transmission rates are low among health care workers. He says educators can do the same thing as they face uncertainty and fear.

“The antidote to fear, is identifying what we do know, putting those principles into practice, and then taking responsibility, each one of us,” he said in his conversation with the Canyons Superintendent.

Community support

Pyfer spoke about having more grace and patience during the state’s weekly briefing last Thursday.

“I’m hearing educators being labeled as lazy and paranoid, parents are being characterized as callous and unselfish, and policy makers are being called uncaring. This is wrong.”

Pyfer said everyone needs each other to make things successful this fall.

“As a community we are grappling collectively with one of the most difficult situations we have ever faced. We can choose how we respond, and how our challenges shape us,” she said.

Dr Webb said Covid has unfortunately been a big divisor in the community.

“In order for us to be successful as we go back to school, we need the community to pull together. We know when the community takes responsibility for themselves and has an outward facing view, we can decrease the rates. We have done so successfully,” said Dr Webb.

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Utah school leaders: time for community to support back to school