The debate about how, and if, to reopen schools this fall is contentious to say the least, particularly in Salt Lake City.
In the coming days, the Salt Lake City Board of Education will consider a proposal by Interim Superintendent Larry Madden to open this fall in soft closure and to only provide online instruction for the first quarter of the school year. I am opposed to his recommendation and feel that the negative effects of a one-size-fits-all, online option for the 23,000 students in Salt Lake City would be significant and long lasting.
Last spring, schools shifted to online instruction in a matter of days and I was in awe of the effort that teachers and parents put into making online instruction work for their children. There were many successes that deserve recognition.
Overall, teachers struggled to authentically engage with students, parents were overwhelmed with being parents, providers and teachers and students struggled to make the progress that our system requires.
Of most concern were the many students who were completely lost (physically and educationally) during the soft closure. Last spring we learned that online/remote learning for many of our most vulnerable students and families is an insurmountable barrier to education.
These barriers will not be overcome with more professional development for teachers, more devices and internet access for students and more “how to be a working parent and a teacher” support programs for parents.
Before us is a rare opportunity to adapt an entire school system so that it better meets the diverse needs of our families and employees by giving them options. Real options.
For those parents who do not feel comfortable sending their students to school during a pandemic, let’s afford them the option for online/remote learning. This is a perfectly reasonable option given the many legitimate concerns raised by parents in Salt Lake and across the state.
For those who feel in-person learning, or a blended model of both in-person and online, is best for their children, let us create the safe and reasonable way for that to happen as well.
Personally, I do not believe that a full reopening of schools is wise or safe at this time. I do believe, however, that the blended learning schedules (in-person and online) presented to the Salt Lake City Board of Education on July 7 were designed to create a safe and healthy learning environment in SLC schools that closely align with CDC and state safety guidelines.
Most importantly, these plans provide unique opportunities for schools to serve those students and families with the greatest needs and help those who would be most adversely affected by online/remote learning. Teachers, counselors, staff members and administrators who are immunocompromised, or whose home situation requires additional health precautions, should be given the option to teach and work remotely.
No educator with reasonable medical concerns should ever be forced to work in-person during a pandemic when there are avenues for them to continue to working remotely, not to mention the new need for online educators. No educator should ever be forced into making the decision whether resign or retire during a pandemic, especially those veteran teachers whose expertise and experience we need now more than ever.
I support the Salt Lake City Board of Education. They are in an extraordinarily difficult position and they care deeply about children, our schools and our communities. They are doing their best to listen to their constituents, including my own board member from the Avenues, whom I don’t always agree with.
I will accept whatever decision they make and I know that the exceptional educators in Salt Lake City will find ways to provide the most excellent and equitable education possible for the students in Salt Lake City School District.
Jared Wright, Ed.D., is the principal of West High School, formerly served as principal of Dilworth Elementary and Clayton Middle School and is a parent of five Salt Lake City students.