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Education

Salt Lake Elementary Students Return For Their First In-Person Classes Since March

A photo of a first grade glassworks with dividers at each of the students desks.
Courtesy of Randy Miller
About 50 kindergartners and first graders came back to Franklin Elementary School Monday morning, about two-thirds of total students in those grades.

Kindergartener Vivian Book is ready to be back in school. And after nearly a year of waiting, Monday was the day.

With a fresh layer of snow on the ground, she and her mom, Marissa, arrived hand-in-hand and masked up at Franklin Elementary School, joining about 50 other students excited and anxious for their first day back.

Many haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since last March.

“It's a little scary with the virus still going on,” Marissa said. “But they honestly need it. I feel like she was doing so well and then it dropped down being homeschooled and seemed a little too easy for her. So hopefully the teacher can challenge her a little bit.”

Many of the now-standard precautions are in place. Desks are outfitted with clear, plastic dividers, surfaces will be wiped down often and as of this month, teachers are starting to get vaccinated.

Mary Hill, an epidemiologist with the Salt Lake County Health Department, said those all are important measures.

And given the district’s cautious approach to reopening — the only one in the state to remain entirely online up to this point — Hill said it seems likely it will continue to closely follow public health guidelines, such as closing a school if 1% of its population tests positive for COVID-19.

Other districts in the county have chosen to ignore those guidelines, Hill said, which has led to spikes in infection rates.

Despite first voting to reopen middle and high schools only after all teachers and staff could be vaccinated, the board voted to open all schools by Feb. 8 after increased pressure from state lawmakers and parents. The big question, Hill said, is whether bringing older students back will lead to an increase of social gatherings outside of school.

“A lot of the transmission, I don't believe, has been occurring in school,” she said. “I think it's occurring at social levels within kids in a school. They take off their mask and they go to their social activities and go to each other's houses and play. And then they bring it back to school.”

Hill said she doesn’t think the district’s reopening will cause a major spike in cases. But given the nature of the virus, and how it spreads, any increase in people coming together is going to contribute to more infections.

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