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With Park City schools, spread the word and not the virus

Guest Editorial

Call to Action: If you or someone in your household tests
positive for Covid-19, pick up the phone and spread the word.
Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

Contact tracing during the widening spread of Covid-19 is hard,
if not impossible at this point.

If you test positive, remember who you could have exposed in the last week or so,then call and inform them so they can get tested. They also need
to look out for signs and symptoms.

If your child (a PCSD student) tests positive, remember who your child could have exposed in the last week or so, then call in inform them so they can start looking for signs and symptoms. Also, call your PCSD school secretary.

All positive test results automatically get shared with the
Summit County Health Department, according to a nurse at one
of our testing sites. Summit County reports it to Utah’s
Department of Health. Your positive case becomes a number entered into county and state systems and third-party
dashboards.

On August 24, 2020, PCSD sent an email to district parents
announcing new healthAttend software, an attendance
portal which can also help track Covid-19 cases. It read:
‘Park City School District is implementing new tools to
help ease communication between parents and the
schools regarding absence reporting and potential
symptom monitoring from home. If your student will be
out of school, we ask that you use our online system to
report their absence(s). This greatly alleviates the strain
on front office staff during critical times of the morning
routine and enables us to focus our attention on COVID
precautions and getting your child safely to class. It also
helps our nurses monitor symptoms and cases, in an effort
to mitigate potential illness outbreaks.’

In reality, healthAttend is a stand-alone database that PCSD
nurses use to enter Covid-19 cases. Is not ready for parents
quite yet. HealthAttend became a company just one month
before PCSD decided to adopt its graphic database. There
is no interface between healthAttend and PCSD. Parents
still have to call and email school Attendance Secretaries
to report an absence or illness, then talk to the school
nurse to discuss and confirm a Covid-19 positive case.
According to one of the district’s Attendance Secretaries,
‘HealthAttend is an external program that does not link to
our school software therefore requiring manual entry.’

After a school nurse confirms the case, he/she enters it into
healthAttend. Late each night, the healthAttend system
gets refreshed, so data entered today is displayed tomorrow
for most people. District administrators have also
confirmed this information and that healthAttend is
stand-alone and displays only an aggregate of
school-entered numbers. After all that, the school
administration decides who to email about quarantining
other students who were in contact with your child during
school hours.

PCSD protocol

Recently, a PCSD student tested positive.
The parent entered the information into healthAttend, but
PCSD did not see that entry. The parent called the school
right away, but it was on a Sunday. By the time the school
applied protocols and procedures and finished notifying
parents whose kids were exposed during unmasked time
together, it was late on that Monday afternoon after
exposed students were back in school, possibly spreading
this virus in classrooms and hallways.

Timely notification and action is what can prevent viral spread.

Have school protocols changed?

Yes. There will be no more quarantine unless unmasked
exposure happens.

PCSD changes protocols as often as the state changes them.

According to the state as of 12/3/20, students may return to
school before 14 days of quarantine only if ALL three
criteria below are met:

  1. The school verifies the person who was exposed and the
    person who tested positive were both wearing a face mask
    as defined by the State Public Health Order on masks in
    schools. (Our student athletes were exposed without
    masks.)
  2. The person who was exposed tests negative for
    COVID-19 at least 7 days after the last day of exposure.
  3. The person who was exposed does not have symptoms of
    COVID-19.

On 12/3/20, Dr. Gildea issued a letter to teachers stating:
‘…With Mask to Mask contact, there will be 0 school
based quarantine – effective immediately – other than
lunchtime contact. The social distance in a classroom is
not a factor in whether or not to quarantine re: seating
chart. So, the only contact tracing schools will be doing is
potential lunchtime or school activity based exposure….If
our athletes practice WITH masks, there is 0 quarantine for
team based exposure.’

Where can I find real Covid-19 case counts?

Case counts reported at the state, county, and school district
levels vary because of the different procedures and timelines for notification. You can find PCSD case counts at both the state
and county level. Often they report higher numbers than PCSD.
This varies. Word of mouth spreads faster than computer data in
the case of PCSD. Teachers may have a more accurate count
than healthAttend given their proximity to information in the
school.

State Dashboard
https://coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts/

Summit County Dashboard
https://summitcountyhealth.org/dashboard/

PCSD healthAttend Dashboard
https://www.healthattend.com/pcsd-dashboard

It’s up to friends and community to call each other, through
word of mouth, if we want to notify and learn quickly about
Covid-19 cases.

Call everyone you know who may have been exposed—the
old-fashioned way! Post it on social media the new-fashioned
way! There’s no shame in it. This is a public health concern. To
meet the challenge of not spreading this virus, a phone call is
quicker than entering data into a void and hoping it goes

somewhere. It’s faster than a PCSD email. The most
responsible party is YOU.

Let’s pick up the phone, reach out to friends, and spread the
word, not the virus! Love our community.

PCSD response about outsourcing substitutes to EduStaff

After the news broke that Park City School District’s substitutes would no longer be working for the school district, we reached out to the Superintendent’s office to see if they had a comment on the situation.

Dr Gildea’s office responded quickly with the following comment. We may not like the decision to do this but we appreciate the quick response.


We have heard from our educators and staff for multiple years that there have been a shortage of substitute roles across PCSD – teachers, instructional assistants, etc.  We have tried a variety of strategies to recruit and retain including shifting the pay rate without improved results.  Last year, we began to explore an outsourcing service.  

The benefits of the service include: pay is more frequent (bi-monthly versus monthly), incentives and bonuses are available which is not possible in the public sector such as attendance and days worked incentives, early retirees do not have a conflict with URS if they work for a private entity, and there is a more targeted recruitment and attention paid to the temporary workforce.  

An RFP process was followed, and EduStaff was selected by HR/Ops team/Business Services Team in October 2020 as the preferred vendor for this process, and they will launch their services in January 2021.  Because they are a separate entity, they do require their own intake application for confidentiality purposes; however, the placement remains within PCSD and works to maintain sub preferences for sites, etc. 

In the meantime, PCSD has also added permanent building substitute teachers to support each school site. Those roles will remain in place to cover preventive quarantine educators or longer-term sub placements. The goal is to provide a seamless learning experience and continuity for our students.  We are working with a new strategy to better support our schools. 

Let me know if you have additional questions.

PCSD says, “Happy Thanksgiving, you’re fired.”

It’s hard to believe that PCSD students are into their third month of in-person school – that’s a huge victory for kids, the district, and working families.  In-person school tops our household list of things to be thankful for this year.

That’s due to hard work (and some luck) at many levels – and a group that has played an outsized role this year — substitute teachers. Subs fly under the public radar most of the time. They’re not your kid’s daily teacher, and you’ll often never meet one. They don’t usually sign report cards and your child might not remember their name.

But this year more than ever, subs are critical. If a teacher isn’t feeling well, or their child at the high school is quarantining, they have no choice – they can’t come to work. That means subs have to step in to keep the school functioning.  Many subs also work long-term jobs of 3 or more weeks, sometimes the entire school year. 

It’s news to no one that teachers are underpaid. But subs do much worse – $13-15 an hour, with no benefits. That’s right, you can literally start for the same amount at Smith’s. Subs receive no benefits whatsoever – but they come to work anyway, because they’re parents and community members who care deeply about kids and education.

So when PCSD announced that effective January 3rd, the entire substitute teacher corps would no longer be employed by the district, and instead would work for a 3rd party temp agency called EDUStaff, based in Michigan, our reaction was disbelief.  Every current sub must reapply for their current job, including spending hours on an online application (literally, we spoke with a sub who is on hour 3 and at step 10 of 22) and an in-person interview – which conveniently can only be scheduled during the school day

The district claims that they need more subs and that hiring this 3rd party company is a way to get them. 

At the Park Rag, we have a number of questions about this:

  • Shouldn’t our first priority be to retain the subs we have? Many subs feel disrespected and unvalued. One sub we contacted told us “I didn’t sign up to work for a temp agency.” They take pride in working for the district, even for minimal pay and respect. Many may quit. 
  • If hiring more subs was a priority, why didn’t this happen over the summer? Why change the entire system in the middle of the school year? Subs and teachers tell us they had no warning of this change and were never consulted until the announcement dropped – the day before Thanksgiving break
  • Where was the outreach to parents and community members? We can’t recall hearing a word about substitutes on KPCW, the Park Record, or via direct communication from the district. Our natural sub pool lives right here in Park City – but it doesn’t appear PCSD ever reached out to them.
  • EDUStaff presumably makes money on this arrangement. Why not try raising the sub pay, advertising for subs, or paying referral bonuses to teachers/subs who recruit new substitutes? This is money that could be used to actually solve the problem.

When you’re in a hole, stop digging. Low pay, low respect, and little or no effort at recruiting/retaining subs has indeed resulted in a shortage.  Throwing the subs we have further under the bus will exacerbate it. 

At a macro level, this may be just as bad. Making a fundamental change on the night before schools go on Thanksgiving Break is ill-timed. It feels like an action a large corporation would take when it’s trying to get away with something. It doesn’t engender trust with the public.

We hope that the Park City School District will reconsider this decision. If not, the substitute teacher shortage may become even worse. No one likes to feel treated like crap.

Note: You can read PCSD’s comment on the issue here.

Remember when Vail said you would probably be able to ski whenever you wanted. Turns out that’s not true.

Opening day for PCMR and Canyons is tomorrow (11/20). Covid-times has turned what is usually an exciting time into a time of anxiety for many people. However, in many respects, it is a miracle we will have a ski season at all.

Enter Vail’s reservation system for Park City Mountain Resort. No longer can you just show up and ski with your Epic Pass. You need to make a reservation. When this was announced in late summer, people worried about whether this would impinge upon their ability to ski or ride.

However, Vail showed confidence and told us locals that we didn’t need to worry. The reservation system was really for those peak times like Christmas week and President’s Day. The Park Record posted an article about the reservations system and ran quotes from PCMR saying, “But we want to remind people that there is no need to worry or rush to reserve your days. Reservations are exclusive to pass holders through Dec. 7 and for the vast majority of days this season, we believe everyone who wants to ski or ride at one of our resorts will be able to.” They continued, “For the vast majority of days this season, we believe everyone who wants to ski or ride at one of our resorts will be able to…”

So, reservations began yesterday at 2PM. I logged in at 2:04 and was greeted with the message that I was 50,000th in line (that’s across Colorado resorts as well). I was able to get a Saturday reservation for the family at PCMR. However, then reports started rolling in that by early evening the only day available to ski was Tuesday. As of now, there are no days available to ski at PCMR in the next week (the reservation period that Vail uses).

This is likely due to a lack of snow and only a few runs being open. It’s also likely due to the extreme number of passes being sold. In recent memory, I know opening day at PCMR is busy, but I don’t remember Thanksgiving week being particularly crowded.

What I hope is that this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. If you have to log in between 2PM and 3PM on every Wednesday and then wait for an hour in line to try and reserve a space, that will be miserable. God help your chances if you aren’t fortunate enough to be working around a computer.

Likewise, if every day has maxed out Vail’s numbers, what are those lift lines going to look like? What’s the experience on the mountain going to look like? IS DV going to look any differently?

Regardless, if you really want to ski the week after Thanksgiving, I’d be in Vail’s Waiting Room at 1:59 PM on Thanksgiving Eve. If you try hard enough, you may get to ski if you really want to.

Don’t worry that the Clerk’s office is quarantined, your vote doesn’t matter anyhow

Welcome to the night before election day. I’m sure many of you are excited that tomorrow is the beginning of the end of Trump’s reign. Somewhere in that wish is a caution to be careful what you wish for, but tonight isn’t the time for that.

We’ve been notified that the Summit County Clerk’s office has been shut down due to quarantine and votes may not be counted until mid-November. So, tomorrow’s the Election-bowl of the century and the Clerk’s office (the people who count the votes) evidently didn’t take the precautions to ensure they could play the game.

The clerk’s office is shuttered until November 9 at the earliest. Your vote will be counted by Mid-November.

Are you upset and what’s your recourse?

The good news is that unless you are in School District #2, where school board president Andrew Caplan is defending his seat against Thomas Cooke, you really don’t have much to vote for — unless some random judge is your uncle.

The sad thing about Summit County is that in local elections no one except for Cooke is challenging the incumbent.

So, don’t let the incomprehensible, Covid-19 action from the Summit County Clerk’s office get you down. Whether your vote is counted this year or later, it won’t really matter. All the Summit County Council candidates running unopposed will get reelected. The Assessor, running unopposed, will get reelected. The Recorder, running unopposed, will get reelected. The Treasurer, running unopposed, will get reelected.

Then, when the Clerk runs in two years, you’ll vote for him again, because no one will run against the Democrat.

Our collective actions aren’t getting the best result for Park City or Summit County. We need to find a way to have options when voting. If not, why vote at all?

Park City School District enrollment was down again this year

As we entered the 2020-pandemic-school-year, fear was palpable. If you had a kid in school, you probably worried about how they would social distance. Then we heard word from some teachers that their classes were packed. We heard there were more than 700 new kids at Park City Schools this year! It was going to be the end of the world!!

But the world did not end.

We learned that according to October 1 enrollment numbers, including both remote and in-person students, Park City had 69 fewer kids in our school district this year than last.

According to PCSD Superintendent, Jill Gidea, during the most recent School Board Meeting, Park City had 4,696 students enrolled in K-12.

Here is the tally:

Kindergarten: 244
1st: 311
2nd: 298
3rd: 320
4th: 335
5th: 356
6th: 402
7th: 364
8th: 414
9th: 404
10th: 419
11th: 422
12th: 407

Total: 4,696

This compares with 4,765 students enrolled on October 1, 2019. So, we went down by 69 students this year.

From a Covid perspective, this flies in the face of what we have been hearing. People are moving here in droves. So, why are our schools not burgeoning at the seams?

  • I hear people talking about the district not being truthful, but I don’t think the district is intentionally lowering numbers. They get state money for every kid. So, they would want to be biased to the upside — not the downside on enrollment.
  • Perhaps, the people buying houses don’t have kids. That would fit with the most-recent second homeowner stats where 2/3 of houses in PC and 1/3 of houses in the basin are second homes. Maybe the people moving in are older and looking for a respite fro the city.
  • Perhaps the families moving in are keeping their kids in remote-learning at their original schools in California, Texas, etc.
  • Perhaps Park City Day School and Judge are getting all the kids because the parents are used to paying for private school and Park City rankings aren’t so hot any more.

I don’t know what the reason is. But it is what it is. For now, in what seems like the largest inward migration of people to Park City since the silver rush of 1892, our schools have gone down in population. Again, the numbers include students doing remote-learning.

That said, Covid-19 is a transitory event. It too shall pass. So, let’s look at these enrollment numbers in context and figure out what they mean for us going forward. There was a time when enrollment in Park City Schools was going up. It appears that time has passed — for now.

In the numbers above, look at the number of students in 7th through 12th grade. That average number of students is 403 per grade. Look at the number of students in grades 1st through 6th. That average is 337. The difference between the two is 16%. That percentage difference will only become bigger unless we get an influx in younger grades.

To put it differently, the 12th grade has almost 100 more kids than the 1st grade has in it (25% more kids). If trends continue, the lower number of students in younger grades will eventually lead to fewer students throughout the system. If we took the current 1st through 4th grade class and compared it to the current number of high school kids (assuming 9th-12th grade) it would be 1,264 versus the 1,649 that are enrolled now. That’s almost a 25% drop.

Why is that? It’s most likely that most families with a child or two can’t afford a $1.5 million house. People who can put $300,000 down are few and far between, and when you have kids, that only becomes harder.

This has broad implications for what the district is planning with capital projects. In 2015 a $56 million bond failed. Now the Park City School Board has given the district the ability to tax residents without a bond for capital improvements. I’ve heard numbers upwards of $150 million to $200 million to tear down Treasure Mountain Junior High, expand the high school for 9th grade and expand Ecker Hill for 8th grade.

It’s a strange course of action when numbers are falling like this. We’ll have to ultimately see what the school district does, but it seems unconscionable if they don’t put a hundreds-of-million-dollar-expenditure out to the people for a vote in the face of this.

I think most of us would agree that some form of capital expenditure makes sense — like bringing the 9th grade into Park City High. We do want to provide a good education for our children.

However, if our hand isn’t forced by growth, and we want to spend money, aren’t there better places to put some of that money? Like teachers or internet for kids who don’t have it or after school programs or technology or helping our ELL students.

Imagine finding a way to take some of those hundreds of millions of tax dollars being proposed for buildings and funneling some of that to help our Park City schools have better than a 36% proficiency rate in math.

The truth is that the school district is not growing. Great. Let’s refocus and get better.

20 Minutes with Andrew Caplan, Park City School board candidate

On Thursday, I had the chance to speak with Andrew Caplan and Thomas Cooke, who are competing for Park City School Board District #2. If you are in District #2, you can either vote for either candidate. If you don’t know if you are in District #2, here is a map.

This is the discussion with Andrew. It was highly informative and I learned a lot. Hopefully, you’ll find it engaging as well.

Most of the questions were sourced from Park Rag readers. Thank you! I tried to keep the discussion close to twenty minutes (although this went over thirty), so I was only able to get to a handful of the 50 questions people had. However, I think we had a good discussion that touched on the essence of many readers’ questions.

Please note, I debated whether to enable comments on this and Thomas’s discussion. Politics is nasty in general. Likewise, we are starting to get people personally attacking others on the Park Rag. That’s not what I want here.

So, please add to the conversation and the discussion. Please praise and attack ideas and not people. It’s hard to run for public office and we don’t need to frighten the best people away from upcoming elections. As usual, I will moderate the comments to make sure they add to the discussion and deal with ideas and not people.

We’re all in this together. On to Park City School Board President Andrew Caplan…

20 Minutes with Thomas Cooke, Park City School board candidate

On Thursday, I had the chance to speak with Thomas Cooke and Andrew Caplan, who are competing for Park City School Board District #2. If you are in District #2, you can either vote for either candidate. If you don’t know if you are in District #2, here is a map.

This is the discussion with Thomas. He is running as a write-in candidate – which long time readers will know that I have a fondness for. Thomas covers topics from how his Planning Commission time will help him on the school board to him raising questions about transparency.

Most of the questions were sourced from Park Rag readers. Thank you! I tried to keep the discussion close to twenty minutes (although this one went 32 minutes), so I was only able to get to a handful of the 50 questions people had. Please know that the Zoom Gods did not favor Thomas and me on Thursday morning. Some of the video is a little choppy (another downside of living in a COVID world), but the audio is great, so you won’t miss a thing.

Please note, I debated whether to enable comments on this and Andrew’s discussion. Politics is nasty in general. Likewise, we are starting to get people personally attacking others on the Park Rag. That’s not what I want here.

So, please add to the conversation and the discussion. Please praise and attack ideas and not people. It’s hard to run for public office and we don’t need to frighten the best people away from upcoming elections. As usual, I will moderate the comments to make sure they add to the discussion and deal with ideas and not people.

We’re all in this together. On to write in candidate Thomas Cooke…

Park City School District needs to provide Covid-19 numbers daily

I’ve generally felt that the Park City School District (PCSD) has done the best job they can of managing back-to-school in a Corona world. There are a lot of moving parts, people, directives, orders, and government organizations that are all interacting to dictate the path forward in our schools. It’s not perfect, but there has not been one day where I worried about sending my kids to elementary school.

Part of that is that the PCSD was providing daily updates on cases at each of our schools. As a parent, it gives you a feel for how it is going. Unfortunately, yesterday that stopped. It appears they have reverted to updating cases weekly. So, the next update comes this Friday.

That change comes at a bad time. Summit County Covid-19 numbers are jumping. We used to have a case or two per day — sometimes five. Now it seems we are way up. Eighteen yesterday. Twenty the day before. Ten the day before that. The trend ain’t our friend.

I only imagine that as we head into winter it will only become worse.

Not having daily numbers from the school district causes a few problems. First, parents have a right to know. I was talking with a friend last night about the change and his point was, “I need to know the situation so I can make the best decisions for my family.” Imagine that you are living in a multi-generational household, with children, parents, grandparents, etc. It would be helpful to know the risk at your child’s school. You could make a decision to keep your child in-person or shift them to the remote option to protect the grandparents and great-grandparents.

Second, in an absence of information, rumors flourish. For instance, I have heard members of local sports teams are going remote, so they aren’t subject to quarantine rules, so players can play. I’ve heard that the dates associated with the student being eligible for coming back to school have been “hidden” to mask the actual numbers so the school can remain in-person. Almost weekly, one of my kid reports on the number of children who aren’t in their class and say “they probably have Corona Virus.”

Is any of that true? I don’t know. However, I do know that in the absence of order there is disorder.

It’s not a failure if we need to go remote for a period. It is what it is. We are in a pandemic.

PCSD, do what you do. You teach. Teach the kids. Teach the parents. Provide information. It will be far better off from a public perspective if we inch up to 15 cases at a school, publish the stats, and we eventually close, versus coming out of the left field. If we are inching that way, then parents know they need to adjust work schedules for the inevitable. If you tell the parents the day before, then it severely impacts the community. What about their jobs? How does the family cope? The school district will be negatively impacting families.

PCSD, please publish the data you get daily, and then we are all in the same boat. We can figure it out together. I know many people who have come here recently don’t believe it, but this is still a small town that often waves to each other, smiles, and is friendly.

Of course, some people will complain. They always do. But the school district needs to do the right thing.

By publishing daily information on Covid-19 cases by school, parents, teachers, and other administrators can make decisions.

Park City School District, if you doubt that daily numbers are best, just imagine that during some random evening in November you get a call from the Summit County Health Department saying you are closed down. Imagine the backlash you are going to get with providing teachers and parents with 8 hours of notice that a school is remote. Imagine the impact to teachers trying to figure out what they will do remotely, tomorrow. Imagine the impact to families. It will be a sh*t show that takes away many days from education.

Instead, imagine that daily numbers are provided and people can prepare for the event as we near it. They see we are approaching the 15 student threshold and plan for the inevitable. It won’t be perfect but it is literally the best we can do.

In the long-run, being open and honest, will work out better for everyone.

Do you have a question for the Park City School Board Candidates?

There is one contested race for the Park City School Board. Write-in candidate Thomas Cooke is challenging incumbent Andrew Caplan for seat #2.

Both Thomas and Andrew have agreed to do casual video interviews via the Park Rag. My goal is to provide voters with as much information as possible to make informed decisions.

The School Board is one of the most neglected positions in local government. Most people just don’t seem to care. Yet, if you have children in the district, this may be one of the most important decisions you can make. If you don’t, get out your property tax statement, you’ll see that the Park City School District is where a lot of your money goes.

With that in mind, I’d love to hear the general themes and questions you’d like me to ask the candidates. I don’t promise to ask every question. Likewise, any questions you submit in the comments below should be respectful. Tough questions are OK, but treat Andrew and Thomas like you would want to be treated. It is not easy to run for local office and/or serve the community. We need to appreciate those that do.

So, if you have a question, please post it in the comments below by Wednesday night. We can all make a difference if we work together.