Sent home after a positive COVID-19 test, some Salt Lake City teachers logged in and carried on

COVID-19 testing caught asymptomatic teachers, who had to quarantine but felt well enough to teach.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Highland High School in Salt Lake City, closed and empty on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Students returned to Salt Lake City high schools for in-person classes on Monday for the first time since last spring. Some teachers who were surprised to test positive for the coronavirus went home and taught online, as others supervised the class in person.

When students returned to Salt Lake City high schools on Monday, some of them ran into rather unusual circumstances — they were in the classrooms, but their teachers were not.

Both teachers and students were tested for COVID-19 as they returned to school. “And there were a few teachers who tested positive and had to quarantine,” said district spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin. “They had to be sent home.”

But those asymptomatic teachers who felt well enough to teach did so remotely.

“It’s not standard protocol for teachers to teach remotely and students to be in the classroom,” Chatwin said. “But, given the circumstances where they had to quarantine but still felt well enough to teach, it was preferable to have them deliver the instruction instead of a last-minute substitute who was not familiar with the class.”

Students were not left alone in classrooms. Teachers who were on preparation time at the high schools or substitutes “were brought in to sit with them,” Chatwin said. “There was an adult there through the whole class period.”

And, she said, the good news is that testing kept coronavirus-positive teachers — as well as a number of students — out of the classrooms.

“On the bright side, it means the test-to-stay program is working,” Chatwin said. “We caught a couple of people who were asymptomatic otherwise.”

The unusual approach was a one-day solution, and substitute teachers or others will lead the classes until the quarantined teachers can return, she said.

The Salt Lake City School District was the only district in the state that began the year and continued with online-only instruction. Students began returning to classrooms in staggered groups by grade on Jan. 25. Older students returned Monday.

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