Push for in-person classes gains final OK in Utah Legislature

The proposal would push colleges and universities to hold a certain number of in-person classes this fall.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) A limited student population begins classes at the University of Utah due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as students are encouraged to social distance, leaving campus empty of its usual traffic, Aug. 27, 2020.

After many rounds of negotiation, the state Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that pushes for a return to in-person instruction at Utah schools.

The final version of the measure, SB107, would require higher education institutions beginning in August to offer at least 75% as many in-person classes as they did in the second half of 2019, before COVID-19 forced many students online. Similarly, for the spring semester starting in January 2022, colleges and universities would have to offer at least 75% as many in-person courses as they provided in January 2020.

A previous version of the bill would have put that threshold at 85%.

The proposal also seeks overall to keep K-12 students in the classroom as the pandemic wears on, by allowing those who test negative for COVID-19 during an outbreak to return to class and requiring those who test positive to stay home.

Schools are currently recommended to shut down when they meet certain coronavirus positivity thresholds. But under the bill, SB107, a local school district would be able to request support — including testing supplies and a mobile testing unit — for a “Test to Stay” program once a school reaches the new, higher coronavirus case thresholds outlined under the bill.

That process would be triggered once 2% of the school’s students at an institution with more than 1,500 students test positive, or once 30 do at a school with fewer than 1,500 students.

The current outbreak marker is 1% of a school’s population, a threshold that many schools, especially high schools with their larger student bodies, have hit quickly and multiple times.

On Thursday, Sen. Ann Millner praised the bill’s sponsor, Sen Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, for working to get the legislation — which went through multiple iterations in recent weeks — across the finish line.

“This has been a really long and arduous journey,” the Ogden Republican said. “It’s hard sometimes to forge agreement, to keep listening and keep modifying. But that’s what he’s done.”

After securing Senate approval with a 23-5 vote, the bill will head to the governor’s desk.