SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday the “soft closure” of all of Utah’s public K-12 schools in a preventative effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Schools will be dismissed for two weeks beginning Monday, March 16. Herbert said at a press conference Friday that the state will reevaluate the closure at a later time since the current situation is rapidly evolving.
The soft closure, or dismissal, means that schools can maintain services like school lunch, tutoring and supports for students with disabilities, said Sydnee Dickson, state superintendent of K-12 schools.
Teachers will still be in the building, she said.
“School is still on, but (students) are learning at home, distance learning,” said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, “and so the goal is for them to be at home studying, reading, doing their homework ... so they are actually still in school, but it’s in a home setting.”
On Thursday, Utah’s public schools were told to prepare for closure, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
“This situation is changing rapidly,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said at the Friday press conference. “In some sense, that is a really good thing because it means that our information is becoming more reliable, and our decision making processes are becoming more sophisticated.”
Lane Findlay, spokesperson for Weber School District, said schools in Weber district will be closed Monday and Tuesday. During that time, the district will hold teacher trainings to prepare to move to a modified home learning program, he said.
The district plans to reopen schools with limited services by Wednesday, March 18, but it is possible that plan will change, Findlay said.
It’s the same situation in both the Davis and Ogden school districts. There will be no students in school Monday and Tuesday, with those days being used to prepare for the transition to remote/online learning starting on Wednesday.
District leaders also planned to send an email to parents Friday evening with an overview of what to expect, but more concrete plans moving forward will likely be announced early next week.
It’s crucial that all parents check their email regularly, as plans could change, Findlay said.
According to a release from the Ogden School District, school meals will still be served but school transportation services will be suspended during the soft closure period.
Specific details regarding meals and educational expectations will be provided to parents by each student’s school.
The Ogden district is strongly encouraging parents keep their children at home. School campuses will reopen Wednesday to allow students and parents to access resources from the school.
The district’s remote learning, according to the release, may include online instruction, take-home packets or a combination of both things. Further details will be worked out in the coming days.
Friday afternoon, Davis School District and Davis County Health Department sent letters to parents notifying them of the soft closure as well as what to expect for the next two weeks.
Davis will move to remote learning and digital instruction beginning Wednesday. Specific information about each school’s learning will be sent to parents by each school’s principal early next week, the letter read.
As far as what the remote learning and digital instruction in the Davis School District looks like, spokesperson Chris Williams said he’s not sure. Monday and Tuesday will be used to formulate those plans.
“There’s going to be work happening. It started a couple days ago just in case we were needing to do this, but our curriculum department will be putting together a couple of websites for teachers to turn to to start grabbing different sorts of lesson plans and ways they can transform their current teaching into an online sort of deal,” Williams said.
Williams noted the end of the soft closure of schools coincides with the start of Davis’ spring break, which runs March 30 to April 3. The Weber and Ogden districts also have their spring break that week.
The Box Elder School District wrote in a Facebook post that it will close schools Monday and Tuesday, then make the transition to remote learning beginning Wednesday.
School meals will still be served at normal times in grab-and-go bags.
“We have developed a survey to collect data on who has internet connectivity and the number of devices that students could receive an online curriculum. Internet connectivity is often defined as being able to stream Netflix on two devices without any buffering occurring. For students that do not have devices at home, families can check out a Chromebook to be used during this time. For families that do not have internet access, teachers will develop a curriculum that can be picked up at the school or delivered via US Postal Service,” according to the post.
The school dismissal announcement came a day after Herbert called to restrict public gatherings.
At a press conference Thursday, Herbert announced the state’s recommendation to limit mass gatherings to groups of 100 or fewer healthy people.
He also encouraged those over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems to avoid groups over the size of 20 people.
The recommendation to limit mass gatherings would be in place for two weeks, he said, and be reevaluated afterward.
He also asked local health departments to protect high-risk populations by restricting access to senior care centers, and to monitor employees and visitors for symptoms of COVID-19.
“I’ve not come to these decisions lightly,” Herbert said Thursday. “This has come as we’ve seen this thing evolve over this past week, based on good science, based on the information we’ve observed and seen throughout the world and certainly here in America.”
These recommendations come from the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, which is composed of members with a breadth of expertise and experience, Herbert said Thursday.
The Davis County Health Department doubled down on the governor’s recommendations, calling for people to practice social distancing and staying away from mass gatherings.
“In order for this social distancing measure to be successful, we need everyone’s help. Once our children are not attending school every day it will be tempting for students to gather in different locations. If people continue to gather in groups this will increase the chances of coronavirus being spread from one person to another,” read a letter sent out by the Davis County Health Department.
The state currently has five confirmed COVID-19 cases of residents in Davis County, the Weber-Morgan health district and Summit County, as well as two players for the Utah Jazz.
Anyone who is worried that they have COVID-19 should contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707.