Local and state education in coronavirus flux – School dismissal to continue through May 1

A classroom at Ashman Elementary School sits empty Monday as all schools in Utah have transitioned students to online schooling in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis in Richfield.

The school dismissal originally slated for two weeks has been extended to at least May 1, following an announcement from Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson Monday afternoon.

Utah’s K-12 public schools will extend their dismissal through May 1, and Utah’s technical colleges will suspend teaching from Monday, March 30 through May 1. These entities will continue to evaluate the situation to make a determination about the remaining school year.

“These are unprecedented times in Utah’s and our nation’s history,” Herbert said, “I have been overwhelmed with Utahns’ outpouring of support for one another, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the way our educators are supporting Utah students and families.”

Distance learning will continue during the extended dismissal for all K-12 public schools, where feasible in the state, and in Sevier County.

Employees will be limited at school buildings, following the CDC’s guidelines to avoid gatherings of groups of 10 or more. Teachers are being encouraged to telecommute when possible.

“We recognize that being away from school creates additional work and stress for everyone in our communities; however, it is a necessary step in stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Dickson said.

“We’ve created a schedule at our house,” said Cade Douglas, superintendent of schools for Sevier School District. “Each family has its own unique challenges given the age and number of children they have, but I have been very impressed with the ways families and the community are rising to the occasion.”

Douglas said most families only have one computer, so it requires families to allocate time for each sibling to complete his or her work.

Utilizing smartphones, tablets and home computers, students are finding ways to get the work done.

“We hope students at home are doing their homework,” said Jill Porter, principal at Ashman Elementary School in Richfield. “It is somewhat difficult for the students, as well as for teachers to switch to online schooling so quickly. However, we are making a valiant effort to communicate and keep track of our students with electronic communication and home visits.”

Students have been given email addresses and telephone numbers for the school, as well as their individual teachers. Students can call or email with questions, which are answered as quickly as possible. 

According to Porter, some students are being supplied with paper and pencil work packets, which are left outside of the student’s classroom doors. The packets can be picked up Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Once the student completes the packet, it should be dropped off at the school for teacher review and grading. If the packets sit for several days, the parents are given a reminder call. In some cases work packets have been delivered to students by teachers or staff in an effort to keep the students engaged and up to speed. 

Ashman has checked out over 125 Chromebooks to students to assist with the change and current challenges, according to Porter. The school’s supply of Chromebooks is very low at this point. Comcast is providing access to free WiFi through the end of May to assist in the plight.

“Initially, we thought maybe 20 to 30 students would need to utilize the school’s supply of Chromebooks,” Porter said. “We have been surprised at how many we have already checked out, but understand the students are comfortable working on them and they are already connected to the various websites and links the students need, which reduces confusion and learning curves for the students, as well as the parents.”

Ashman is currently providing approximately 200 lunches and breakfasts each day. Parents are asked to bring the children with them when the meals are picked up as such is being allocated per child in the vehicle. 

Staff members and teachers are handing out the meals from the back of a school bus at each designated location using crates to avoid contact and contamination in either direction. Each vehicle pulls up to the bus, receives a meal for each child in the vehicle and then pulls out. The meals include lunch for that day and breakfast for the following day.

“We would like to thank parents for their patience and understanding during this difficult time,” Porter said. “We would also like to remind parents needing to register kindergarten students for the 2020-21 school year to stop by the school, complete a registration card and pick up a registration packet that can be completed at home and returned to the school. While classes are not being held at the school, the school is open and will remain open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.”

“I am totally impressed with how the school and the teachers are handling the situation,” Launa Albrecht, mother of an Ashman student said. “They are very responsive and keeping up on everything for their students, which makes the situation much easier on the students and the parents.”

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