FARMINGTON — As the Davis School District continues to see an increase in positive cases of COVID-19, the district’s Board of Education on Tuesday adopted a plan for school closures in the case of an outbreak.
Davis is the second largest district in the state, according to numbers from the Utah State Board of Education. It also, as of Tuesday, had the second highest number of active COVID-19 cases in the state with 165.
Assistant Superintendent John Zurbuchen proposed that the district follow the guidelines laid out in the USBE’s COVID-19 School Manual, which recommends that students and teachers in a classroom with three or more active cases and students and staff in a school with 15 or more active cases are placed in quarantine for two weeks.
As of Monday, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, Viewmont High School had 15 active cases of the virus. According to district spokesperson Christopher Williams, however, the school is not subject to closure because the school is on a hybrid schedule, meaning that not all students are in the school at the same time.
“When students aren’t in school, they participate in remote at-home learning.” Williams said. “The hybrid schedule basically separates the school into two student bodies.”
Zurbuchen said under the proposed plan, the district would notify parents of students in a class or school setting that met the case threshold as soon as it was aware of the case count. Those students would stay home from school and learn virtually for the next 14 days, with the first day of quarantine serving as a preparation day for teachers.
While Zurbuchen acknowledged moving to virtual learning less than 24 hours after learning of an outbreak may be short notice for parents, he said it’s necessary for the health of students.
“The school is having a COVID outbreak,” he said. “It is in a public health crisis mode, and waiting doesn’t serve that public health crisis.”
When an elementary or junior high school faces an outbreak, all before- and after-school activities will be canceled. For high schools, however, any activities recognized by the Utah High School Activities Association will be permitted to continue, unless that organization is suffering an outbreak of its own.
Noting the vast difference in size between elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools, some board members suggested reducing the 15-case threshold for elementary schools.
“We certainly can divert from (the USBE guideline), but as we divert from that, we put ourselves at the risk of seeming arbitrary in terms of what benchmark we choose and on what basis we make those decisions,” Zurbuchen said.
Since reopening in August on a hybrid schedule, the district has been subject to criticism from a variety of perspectives on its handling of education during the pandemic.
Following parent protests calling on the district to bring students back on a full in-person schedule, the board voted to start elementary schools on a four-day-a-week schedule Sept 28 and transition secondary schools to the schedule on Nov. 2. That decision has been met with backlash from individuals — many of whom are teachers — concerned about a potential increase of COVID-19 cases in schools.
Of the six people allowed to speak during the public comment period on Tuesday, four implored the district to return elementary schools to the hybrid schedule. Among them was Timothy West, a physician at LDS Hospital.
Pointing to the low quarantine numbers the district had at the beginning of the year, he said, “My plea is, if it isn’t broken, please don’t fix it.”
While the board hasn’t indicated whether it will revisit its decision to begin transitioning schools away from the hybrid system, it will discuss whether it will consider lowering the threshold for elementary school closings at its next meeting on Oct. 20. In the interim, it will stick with the guidelines provided by the USBE.