EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Utah school closures normal due to drop in student numbers

Aug 3, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2023, 10:36 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah school closures in some areas are occurring due to dropping enrollment numbers. Salt Lake City School District is considering closing several elementary schools. 

Demographic reports by the University of Utah have said that there will be 2,000 fewer school-age students in the next several decades. This is due to rising housing costs and falling birth rates. 

Summit County will see similar drops, losing a projected 1,200 students over the next decade. 

Ben Horsley, spokesman for Granite School District, said these closures are normal.

“Populations ebb and flow. They peak and then they settle (to) about two-thirds of their max population.” 

Granite School District has closed six elementary schools so far. They are now studying one school for closure, and they expect to close five to six more in the coming years, said Horsley. 

School closure process 

Salt Lake City School District is considering closing Emerson, Hawthorne, Bennion, Mary Jackson, Newman, Riley and Wasatch elementary schools. 

Horsley said there is a lengthy public input process. Granite School District held 90 public meetings before it closed three of its elementary schools. 

“It takes about a year to close a school on a calendar-year basis,” said Horsley. 

The cause of Utah school closures 

Horsley said “small schools are not great for kids anymore. It used to be the notion that everybody would know everybody’s names.” Nowadays, parents want options, and they want to be in a supportive community. 

One of the schools that Granite School District closed last year had only 280 kids in its student body. Horsley said that equates to fewer than two teachers per grade level. In some cases, there is only one teacher for a grade level. 

“If you don’t like one of the teachers, it’s not really a great fit for your student,” said Horsley. 

Small school-staff sizes put a lot of strain on employees. Since there are fewer parents in the school community, there are fewer involved in the PTA. Less parent involvement means more strain on the school’s employees, said Horsley. 

Elementary schools are often the first to close, as they are often smaller than middle and high schools, he said. 

School openings

While schools in several areas are closing, there are other areas that need more schools. 

“The vast majority of Granite District is a mature area. There’s not room for new growth … we have stabilized that portions of Magna and that western portion of the Oquirrh Mountains will have a tremendous amount of development. So, we actually expect that we’ll be opening new schools in those areas,” Horsley said. 

Horsley said that development in new areas will cause a demand for new schools in those areas in coming decades. 

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Utah school closures normal due to drop in student numbers