Local school districts saw the most school closures over a one-week period last week and added seven more this week as COVID-19 continues to surge in the state.
As of Friday, 18 total facilities were temporarily closed because of the coronavirus.
This week, the state averaged 3,331 new positive test results a day. Utah again broke its single-day record of COVID-19 cases Friday with 4,588, according to the state health department.
“I tell our schools when we go on soft closure, this isn’t an indictment on the school being a dirty place,” said Davis School District Assistant Superintendent John Zurbuchen in a Nov. 17 school board meeting. “School’s part of our community. This is a community problem.”
Three junior high schools — Syracuse Junior High School, Legacy Junior High School and Farmington Junior High School — and Clearfield High School in the Davis School District were moved to remote learning this week. Prior to Thursday, Clearfield was the only traditional high school in the district to have not experienced a COVID-19 outbreak large enough to shutter it.
Fremont High School was also the last traditional high school standing in the Weber School District until it announced Wednesday it would close. The first school to move online in the district, Roy High School, will start its second round of closure Monday.
The Morgan School District, which has just one high school, said Tuesday that school would close for nearly three weeks after more than 20 students, faculty and staff tested positive for the coronavirus.
“As always, the Morgan County School Board evaluates health and safety risks on a case-by-case basis,” said Morgan School District Superintendent Doug Jacobs in an email to parents. “And, while most of the current cases have been traced to contact outside school, the Board is persuaded by the total number of cases and rate of increase in cases that the best course of action is a temporary transition to mitigate the escalation in cases we are seeing at our and other area schools.”
According to the Utah State Board of Education’s COVID-19 School Manual, an outbreak of 15 or more people across multiple settings in a school should trigger a closure. Local school districts have, for the most part, stuck to that recommendation.
Still, the virus has continued to spread rapidly in schools. The Davis School District had the most active cases in the state Friday at 725 — more than 1% of its 70,643-person student body. It is the second largest district in the state after Alpine School District, which had less than half the cases at 328 as of Friday, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The Davis School District now sits at a total of 11 schools that are currently online. One of those schools, Farmington High School, has shut down twice. The high number of closures in the district prompted some parents to campaign for the school board to change its metric for closing schools to a percentage of the student body, which would allow some schools to stay open longer.
Zurbuchen indicated in a school board meeting Tuesday that district administration was not going to propose the district diverge from the state recommended 15-case threshold.
“I believe we should rely on the expertise of the state health department, the governor and Utah State Board of Education,” he said. “We do not have that expertise.”
Four out of Weber School District’s 13 traditional secondary schools have temporarily shifted to remote learning. Although the Ogden School District has seen three schools close due to coronavirus outbreaks, all have since reopened.
The state’s largest teachers union, Utah Education Association, called on Gov. Gary Herbert to move all secondary schools in the state online as an upward trend of COVID-19 numbers continues. If he didn’t take action, it requested that local school boards do so.
“Current strategies to address COVID-19 in Utah are clearly not working,” read the UEA’s statement. “We are now seeing multiple schools repeatedly shift back and forth from in-person to at-home learning due to outbreaks. This cycle is obviously not helping to control the virus spread and, as educators, we can unequivocally state the continual interruptions are not in the best interest of student learning.”
Herbert enacted emergency COVID-19 restrictions Nov. 8, but school closures were not included. School boards for the Davis, Ogden and Weber school districts have so far not signified any changes to school schedules.