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Some Salt Lake City Parents Frustrated With Their District’s Return To Classrooms

A photo of East High School.
Jeff Hitchcock
Parents with students at East High School said when teachers were out sick, their kids were placed in auditorium to work on remote assignments.

It’s been just over two weeks since students in the Salt Lake City School District returned for in-person classes. Middle and high school students now spend two alternating days at school, and the rest learning remotely.

But some parents aren’t happy with how things are going.

Melissa Hardy said she pulled her four kids out of the district at the start of the year, but brought three back when the district announced it would reopen earlier this month. And while her kids’ experience in elementary school has been great so far, she said it feels like no one seems interested to be back at the high school level.

Teachers aren’t challenging students and administrators aren’t communicating well with parents, she said.

On Monday, she said a few teachers at her daughter’s school were out sick and there was no one to fill in. Students, including her daughter, were then left to just sit in an auditorium.

“There was one teacher for seven classes, so she was just sitting there,” Hardy said. “Luckily high school students, for good or for bad, have their cell phone.”

Yándary Chatwin, the district’s communications director, said they are still working out the kinks of returning to in-person instruction during the pandemic. She said part of the challenge is how the pandemic has impacted the state’s pool of substitute teachers. It’s difficult to find subs in a normal year, but that has become even harder in the COVID era.

Chatwin said normally the district can call on a couple hundred subs to fill in, but this year there are only about 100. She said the district has not surveyed subs to find out exactly why they aren’t available this year, but it’s likely because of COVID-19 concerns.

“For someone who is substituting on an occasional basis, maybe to make some outside income, there's not a really big incentive to expose themselves to large groups of people, especially if we're thinking about a substitute in a high school who would be around for different classes of students every single day,” Chatwin said.

She said the district has boosted sub pay this year as an incentive, but it has not seemed to be working so far.

The other problem is teachers are out more often, Chatwin said. They’re required to stay home if they show any COVID-related symptoms. They also have to quarantine if they’ve been exposed.

Chatwin said there are usually about 50-60 requests for subs each day, though some days there have been 100 or more. The biggest days for requests have tended to come on Fridays, the day after the district’s weekly teacher vaccine clinic. She said some staff members have needed to stay home due to getting some severe symptoms following the shot.

“All these things are really bizarre pandemic related circumstances,” she said. “And so having kids in an auditorium is not the norm. But on a day like that, where we were lucky to even fill half the sub requests, our administrators and staff did what they could.”

As of Tuesday, there have been 32,504 cases of COVID-19 in schools. About 10% have been among teachers.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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