The Davis School District Board of Education listens to a parent during the public comment portion of the board's workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

The Davis School District Board of Education called a special meeting Wednesday night to assess whether the district would go ahead with plans to move from a hybrid schedule to a four-day school week starting Monday, Sept. 28, for elementary schools and Oct. 5 for secondary schools.

“The day after we met (to vote on the plan), we began to see on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and continuing today, a spike in numbers of cases throughout the state, which concerned us, as well as events happening in other districts,” said Board President John Robison. So, he called a meeting.

After passionate public comments and discussion that lasted over two hours, the board voted to proceed with starting elementary schools on a four-day school week next Monday while postponing secondary schools’ phased return to Nov. 2 — the beginning of second term.

Seven of the board members approved the motion and one, Robison, dissented.

“If we separate the secondary and elementary, the thing that gives me a little bit of concern is whether we’re going to adequately allow for the time needed for those who are in a compromised situation — whether they’re students at the elementary level or whether they’re teachers — that those individuals will be given the kind of time that they might need,” Robison said. “I’m just not comfortable that everything that needs to be done is going to be done to help these people.”

The board’s reasoning for sticking to the plan for elementary schools was that the district, generally, has seen lower COVID-19 numbers among this group. As of Monday, the district had 11 active cases of the virus and four individuals quarantined in its elementary schools. Meanwhile, there were 43 active COVID-19 cases and 72 quarantined in secondary schools. 

Concern for secondary schools, where students gather in larger groups, remained high after seeing elevated infection rates — especially among teens and young adults — in other parts of the state. Between Sept. 14 and Sept. 20, Utah's seven-day average of positive cases increased from 527 to 847, which was a 61% jump. Davis County, in comparison, rose from 37 to 44 for a 19% increase. 

“So far less than the state, but still an increase that we haven’t seen in almost a month,” said Assistant Superintendent John Zurbuchen.

Despite low numbers among elementary students and continuing district efforts to keep schools safe, the growing amount of cases around the county puts opponents to the transition plan ill-at-ease.

The district hopes to have enough plexiglass separators for all teachers who self-identified as high risk before next week, said Assistant Superintendent Craig Carter. He said the district will receive as many as 2,500 separators in the coming weeks. But some in the district don’t see that as enough to protect everyone’s health.

Raul Sanchez, who teaches third grade at Lincoln Elementary, told the board during the public comment period that teachers do not have the resources they need to have all of their students in the classroom together safely next week.

“We do not have the proper equipment — social distancing and PPE — for Monday the 28th when I have to begin the four-day schedule, and that is basic protocol at a local bank, grocery store or fast food restaurant,” he said.

Social distancing in elementary schools was also a concern for mother Wendy Garcia, who identified herself as an individual who would be at high risk if she contracted the virus. She has a daughter in junior high who is also high risk. Garcia is worried about her other daughter, who is in elementary school, bringing home COVID-19.

“They will not be able to social distance at all if they go back to the four-day-a-week,” she said to the board. “My daughter at the elementary school is currently able to take mask breaks at her desk. That will not be possible if you go to the four-day-a-week. Her teacher told her that and she came home crying last week.”

As some stakeholders are disappointed that the district didn’t also defer the move to four-day school weeks for elementary schools, others feel a sense of relief.

“There’s pain on not just both sides of this issue, but all sides,” said board member Julie Tanner. “There’s not just two sides of this issue, there’s many nuanced sides of this issue, and the pandemic has caused a great deal of pain for many people.”

Cameron Halversen teaches special education at the district’s Vista Education Campus. He sees the hybrid system as a barrier to elementary and special education students receiving the help they need.

“The hybrid doesn’t work for elementary students and for students that I teach in special education,” he said. “Students are not completing their work at home, they are struggling to get technology to function properly and many are simply treating it as a day to play with friends.”

Although the plan for elementary schools to move to a four day school week has been set in motion, the board will meet two more times before secondary schools' Nov. 2 transition date. If they need to adjust, Robison said, they will do so.

“We don’t want to flip flop,” said board member Liz Mumford. “But I think it’s a sign of leadership to recognize when you need a course correction and to be mindful of the data that’s changing over time, and I think we all share a commitment to having that flexibility in a pandemic.”

Contact reporter Emily Anderson at Follow her on Twitter at @emilyreanderson.

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