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School Restart 2020-21

Update July 23, 2020

Dear families,

As we continue to work on our plans for the 2020-21 school year, we know you have questions. We want you to be informed and to know we are listening to your input. Please know that we want our students back in the classroom as soon as possible. We are committed to doing that safely when the conditions in our community are right.

Earlier this week, I made a proposal to our Board of Education for how I think we should start the school year. The Board will meet again next week (Thursday, July 30 at 5pm) to take a final vote on this plan. Here are the details of the proposal:

  • Move the first day of school for students to Tuesday, September 8 (the day after Labor Day). The original first day of school was scheduled for Tuesday, August 25.
    • Teachers will begin the year on their regular contract schedule and will use the first two weeks of the original school year to connect with students and families and to prepare for the coming year.
  • Begin the school year via online learning through the end of the first quarter (end of October), with a few exceptions.
    • With the changes that Utah Governor Gary Herbert made last week for school districts remaining in the Orange phase of Utah’s COVID-19 recovery plan, our school district would have the opportunity to provide some in-person instruction for many of our most vulnerable students, including our English Language Learners and our Special Education students. (In fact, we have been holding in-person instruction for many of our Special Education students over the summer. Students have been able to come and meet with their teacher in small groups of three to five students to make sure they are ready for the coming school year.)
    • We will continue to provide in-person, small group instruction to those who are most vulnerable.
  • Moving the start of the school year to September would allow us to use the first two weeks of the original school year to do the following things:
    • Bring in students and parents for one on one or small group meetings with their teachers. Starting the year via remote learning will be much more effective if our students and teachers have an opportunity to make an in-person connection first. This is especially crucial for our younger elementary students and for students transitioning to a new school.
    • Bring students into school to administer academic assessments. Good instruction is focused on student needs. We will administer our state-required assessments and targeted district assessments, as appropriate, during this time. This will allow teachers to support student learning when classes begin.
    • Distribute laptops and other devices to students before online learning begins.
    • Provide trainings to parents on how to use Canvas and our other online resources.

After the Board discussed my proposal on Tuesday, they voted to move forward in a few specific areas.

  • Board members voted to move the first day of school to Tuesday, September 8 (the day after Labor Day). The Board also voted to convene the District Calendaring Committee to re-examine the school year to accommodate this delayed start.
  • The Board approved the required state assurances that must be submitted by August 1 to the Utah State Board of Education.
    • The assurances summarize our district’s plan for how to bring students back to in-person learning in a safe manner whenever we are ready to take that step. It outlines how we will practice social distancing in the classroom and on buses, our protocols for sanitation and hygiene, etc.
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  • The Board directed district leadership to determine the metrics we will use to determine when it is safe to resume in-person learning and to use stakeholder input in developing these standards. Having these metrics in place now will help guide our decisions and will also help families know what to expect this year.

Now, as we keep looking ahead to the coming year, I want to share with you a few of the things that will be different this fall if the Board of Education approves the proposal to start the school year with online learning.

  • All classes will be conducted in Canvas, and learning resources will be housed within the Canvas course to make navigation easier for students and parents. Your feedback indicated that learning would be more efficient if all learning resources were in one place. By using Canvas as our exclusive platform, we hope things will be a little more streamlined at home. This means that parents with students in various grades or in different schools will need to learn just this one platform in order to access student coursework.
    • In August, we will also begin offering training for parents on how to use PowerSchool, Canvas, the Canvas parent app, and Canvas calendars.
  • Teachers continue to participate in professional development opportunities. Our teachers have told us they want to be better prepared to teach online this year. Over the summer, more than 1,500 teachers have completed training to help improve their remote teaching practices. We are lucky to have dedicated educators in our district, and we will continue to provide them with professional development opportunities that will better prepare them to teach your students this year.
  • Starting in August, professional development for teachers will focus on:
    • Organizing instruction in remote and hybrid learning sessions
    • Using new online curriculum and resources to support academic areas
    • Using Zoom and Teams to facilitate teacher to student and student to student live interactions
  • Our counselors, social workers, and school staff have also participated in professional development related to Social and Emotional Learning. We are committed to meeting the social and emotional needs of our students and will continue to improve how we support our students in remote and in-person learning. Our teams have received training on:
    • Helping students understand their different emotions and developing skills to address these emotions;
    • Promoting the development of healthy relationships--student to student and teacher to student; and
    • Creating a sense of belonging and community;

We know there are many more questions among our parents and families. Here is a list of a few of the most frequently asked questions.

What platform will you be using for video conferencing?

  • We are contracting with Zoom to be our teleconferencing provider. Microsoft Teams will be used for small groups.

Will my student be able to participate in sports this year?

  • Yes. The Utah High School Athletics Association has approved for our students to participate in athletics this year, despite Salt Lake City remaining in the Orange phase of COVID-19 recovery. Under the new regulations, we are allowed to have physical contact in practices and to compete against other high schools -- as long as our athletes and coaches continue to follow the health and safety guidelines issued by the Utah High School Athletics Association and our state and local health departments.

When the district begins in-person instruction, what happens if I am not comfortable sending my children to school in person? Will there be an option for my children to attend completely online?

  • Yes, you will also have the option to enroll your student in a program that is completely 100% online. During the registration process, you will be given the opportunity to note that you want to enroll your child in the 100% online option. At both the elementary and secondary levels, students who register for this option will be placed in “virtual” classrooms with certified teachers who will instruct, monitor, meet with students, and offer interventions online.

Will students and employees be required to wear masks at school?

  • Yes, both students and employees will be required to wear masks at school, in compliance with Governor Herbert’s recent directions. There will be exceptions for individual circumstances, such as unique medical needs, but these will be handled on a case by case basis. This directive also applies if a student or parent needs to come to school in person while the district is still in a remote learning period.

What will we do if we do not have access to a computer for our child or internet access in our home?

  • Computers and other devices will be checked out to families who need them. 

We will have a section on our website soon with more of our Frequently Asked Questions.

I want to thank you for the time and effort you have spent in helping us finalize our plans. I have literally received hundreds of emails, and while I have not been able to respond to all of them yet, I have read every single one. I know there is a wide difference of opinions about what the district’s plan should be this fall, but I want you know that at the heart of everything we do is the commitment to:

  • Keeping our students and employees safe, while also
  • Balancing the need to provide our students with quality instruction, whether in person or online.

Please know how much we care about your students and about your families. We are anxious to have all students in the classroom with us as soon as we can safely do so. I believe taking a cautious approach to the beginning of the school year–and a commitment from all of us to follow health and safety guidelines–will help us get to that goal much sooner. We will continue to share details with you over email as we finalize them. And we will send you another email next week with the link to watch the livestream of the Board meeting on Thursday, July 30 at 5pm.

Sincerely,

Larry Madden
Interim Superintendent
Salt Lake City School District

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