Utah kids cannot spend the day at schools shuttered over the coronavirus, governor clarifies

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Gary Herbert, right, is joined by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox Friday, March 13, as they announce the 'soft closure' of all Utah K-12 schools for the next two weeks, effective Monday, in the ongoing effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

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While announcing that Utah schools would begin a two-week “soft closure,” effective on Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert assured parents that districts would remain open for students who need a safe place to go.

But his office clarified Saturday that while public schools are closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, parents who can’t stay home with their children will not be able to drop them off on campuses to be supervised.

“It is important to note that schools will not provide childcare of any kind,” a news release from the governor’s office said Saturday night.

During the two-week “dismissal” period, students can retrieve “grab-and-go” meals, retrieve personal items and pick up assignments from teachers in schools that choose to not move classes fully online, the release said. Some instructors may be available to answer questions about assignments or for brief one-on-one tutoring, it added.

The release said families should reach out to their local school districts for information specific to their schools during the closure.

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said that while she fully supports the schools closing to keep kids safe, she worries that some students — such as those who can’t speak English or don’t have access to internet — could be left behind in the move.

That’s why she called on families and teachers on Friday after the closure announcement to work with school communities to find solutions for those students.

Riebe, who is a teacher herself, said school systems are part of the “social contract," just like police and fire services — and they need to be supported for the benefit of all students.

“I just really worry about our most vulnerable kids,” she said Saturday.

The soft closure applies to the state’s 41 public school districts and 116 charters, impacting roughly 660,000 students statewide. The point, Herbert said Friday, is to limit big, in-person interactions and slow the spread of the virus through social distancing. On Thursday, he called for a ban on all meetings with more than 100 people.

The Salt Lake Tribune will update this developing story.