Utah Public Schools Dismissed For Two Weeks
Updated 11:27 a.m. MDT 3/15/2020
Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday afternoon that all public schools in the state will be dismissed starting Monday, March 16.
During a press conference at the state Capitol, he called the move a “soft closure,” the latest response to growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Herbert said in-person classes will be suspended for two weeks, though students will still be taught online, through work sent home or a combination of the two.
The decision does not apply to private schools, though several have announced closures of their own.
“We think this is prudent,” Herbert said. “We want to have education continue but we want to make sure we do it in a way that we protect the health and welfare of the people of Utah.”
State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said the dismissal is designed to give districts flexibility in how they continue to operate. Teachers will remain at schools and starting Monday will have up to two days to work out how they want to distribute lessons and schoolwork.
“I feel confident that at the local level we're actually set to go,” Dickson said. She said the state has been preparing with leaders from all 41 districts and 116 charter schools over the past few weeks.
She said schools will continue to be funded and students who rely on special services — such as school meals or additional tutoring — will still have access to what they need.
“We're not ending the school year by any means,” Dickson said. “The control remains with our local health departments to change this decision from a dismissal to a school closure if they feel this situation in the community develops further.”
Both Herbert and Dickson acknowledged the difficulty the decision will likely place on families, but stressed the importance of social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus. Officials clarified a day after the announcement that schools will not be able to provide childcare of any kind.
Dr. Kurt Hegmann with the University of Utah, also speaking at the press conference, said the state is learning from other countries — whose medical systems have been overwhelmed by patients seeking treatment — that it is important to act early, before widespread transmission of the virus occurs.
“I applaud the decision making,” Hegmann said. “It's sound science.”
Herbert said after two weeks, state officials will reassess the dismissal and decide how to proceed from there.
Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon