With less than a week until classes start, Granite School District is bowing to pressure from teachers and will now reduce the number of days that elementary students attend school in person.
The move came during an emergency meeting by the district’s board of education Monday morning. Members met to address concerns from educators, who have rallied in the hundreds and sent a strong letter to the board last week demanding that it do more to limit their exposure to the coronavirus — or risk a strike.
“We are listening to our teachers loud and clear,” said Karyn Winder, chair of the board.
As requested by educators, the group voted unanimously to have kids in elementary grades go in for face-to-face learning four days a week, from Monday through Thursday, when schools reopen. Previously under the district’s plan, those students had the choice to go in five days a week like normal. Everyone will now have Fridays as a digital day for extra instruction or grading or catch up.
That same schedule was already in place at the junior high and high schools in Granite.
Parents can still choose to have their kids complete their school work entirely online when classes start on Aug. 24. But few have opted to do so, Winder said, and most want to return in-person.
“We have a very high in-person enrollment,” she added. “That poses a few challenges.”
The district has been at odds with its teachers over how to reopen this fall. In a massive rally earlier this month, many educators had called for school to remain online. Others wanted at least more of a hybrid of online and in-person to allow for more social distancing in the classroom.
But Granite officials said that the district wasn’t going to switch to one of those plans for elementaries and wanted to offer students a typical in-person experience (with safeguards against the virus). Only one member of the board, Todd Zenger, has asked that the district make adjustments.
“I continue to hear from parents and teachers and administrators who continue to be concerned,” he said during the meeting Monday.
Zenger has previously asked for a modified schedule, but his motions have not had enough support to go to a vote.
Meanwhile, at least 44 teachers have quit or retired early to avoid returning to the classroom in Granite District, where there are few options for those who want to instruct remotely. Some with underlying health conditions have told The Salt Lake Tribune that their requests to stay home were denied.
The board framed the decision Monday as a compromise with the Granite Education Association, the local union representing teachers in the district that has pushed for the changes.
The association wrote in its letter: “Educators are afraid. They are pleading. They are waiting for some sign that the district means what it says when it tells educators ‘we value you.’ ”