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Opening Park City schools full-time is a polarizing issue

I’ve said before that I commend the Park City School District on giving people the heads up that schools will be open for business this fall. However, I am hearing from teachers with major concerns about safety. I also get that.

We won’t really know the details about how schools will operate until the Park City School District formalizes plans. Those will take time.

I don’t have answers, but the way I am starting to look at it is in the form of a question. Is in-person teaching an essential “business”?

I know the people working at most medical facilities are considered essential. I know that police and firefighters are essential personnel. I know that the people checking me out at the supermarket are considered essential.

Are teachers?

The argument could be made that at-home learning, with teacher assistance, fills the need. I think many of those who experienced it in the spring would say the quality was as good as could be expected given the circumstances, but it wasn’t up to normal standards. Yes, some teachers did a bang-up job. However, from many conversations I have had, at-home learning would have to be generally more effective this fall and MUCH more than a stop-gap measure to make it a viable alternative.

Frankly, from what I have heard around our community, the district was given a pass on education this spring from parents. It doesn’t sound like they will be as forgiving this fall if education is at-home. That could lead to a number of issues. I think the Administrators at the Park City School District know that.

All of that said, it doesn’t alleviate the fear of teachers. Above, I’ve written about parents’ expectations and learning. Teachers have to deal with that, but they also have to consider the their health and that of their families.

It’s not easy.

I’d bet we are about to hear from the Park City Education Association on the matter. Get ready to read a number of editorials in the Park Record. Of course, if you want to write something here on the Park Rag, please email us. I want to represent as many viewpoints as possible. We’ve had over 1500 views on our story about PC schools opening. So, you will have an audience.

My guess is that things are about to get more polarized across the community. It will be interesting to see how this all works out.

Comments

11 Comments

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Walt

I’d love to hear from some teachers (anonymously, if necessary). I assume PCSD made this plan in consultation with the teachers, but it would still be great to hear their perspective.

IMO, it’s worth a shot, as long as we have a clear offramp/rules for when things are going south and what we do then.

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Parkrag

I’d agree with that. If teachers want to comment anonymously, they can always submit a comment here or can use the idea/tip page here at Park Rag.Tips and Ideas

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Anonymous

I’m a PCSD teacher, and I’ll tell you that we were blindsided by the declaration of full school opening that was announced July 13th. In fact, the Park Rag and KPCW had the info before PCSD employees, which was insultingly infuriating. Following the breaking news statement Gildea sent out, the teacher union representatives are finally in discussion (during their summer break) with PCSD administration making sure that student, teacher, and staff safety concerns are addressed. What is not yet being announced is that school registration numbers have been rising all summer. Class sizes are increasing due to many second home owners deciding our rural area is a safer place to live than their higher population communities at the moment. Likewise, local real estate is getting bought up by those escaping their urban populated areas leading to more children entering our system and nearby districts. Since we are on our summer break, teachers don’t yet have access to the exact numbers of the increases. It’s frightening since we don’t yet know how classroom face to face instruction will be handled. PCSD declared a hiring freeze, so how will we lower class sizes to accommodate the social distancing guidelines? There are still so many unanswered questions as the clock ticks toward the start of school. I, and many of my colleagues, are very uneasy about how our safety is being addressed. Science tells us that many children are asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19, so what’s the plan as teachers and staff get sick? We have historically had substitute teacher shortages in the best of times. How will we cover teacher absences during a pandemic? All we know is that there is still so much we do not know.

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Parkrag

Thanks for that information. I had considered people moving here from urban areas but hadn’t considered second homeowners transferring their kids to Park City Schools. We’ve had slightly declining student populations for a few years. An abrupt shift in that, especially during these times, could be difficult on a number of levels.

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Walt

Seriously? The teachers weren’t consulted well in advance, at the start of the summer, if not in the spring? The discussion is happening *now*?!?

I’m dumbfounded. That’s just idiotic. A variety of plans (with all relevant parties consulted/on board) should have been done long ago.

It will be interesting to see what enrollment looks like, I had not heard that we had so many new students. Predictions of increased student population haven’t panned out in the past, and as Josh said, if we see a significant bump it’s going to cause problems. Maybe a lot of parents will keep their kids home/learning remote – that might mitigate it a bit.

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Anonymous PCSD Teacher

I am also a teacher in PCSD. Echoing what was said above, we were not informed about the face-to-face, in-school option until after other news outlets knew. I know, at this point, the district is talking with PCEA (who represents the district’s teachers), but communication to us as been lacking throughout this process, which has angered many teachers.

I’m sure other people have more to add, but here are a few general thoughts:

– As a teacher, I hated online learning. The connection with students was incredibly difficult, and that was after we already knew the students from a year’s worth of in-person instruction. If we start the year online, as other districts are doing, building rapport and relationships with our students will be difficult. Spring of 2020 was damage-control; and it needs to be better this coming fall. But the logistics around improving instruction online or in a hybrid format are complex. Personally, I want to be in school because that is what I love doing: working in school with kids. If we go back in person, I’ve resigned to the fact that I will likely get Covid. But that also means major sacrifices in our personal lives. I’ve already informed my parents and relatives that I won’t be able to see them for holidays, because I am not comfortable being around students one day and seeing family the next. So if school returns in person, I’m committing to not seeing my parents, grandparents, in-laws, or siblings until we have a vaccine, as most of them are old enough that it would be dangerous and irresponsible to spend Thanksgiving or winter break with them. Just like nurses and doctors and grocery store workers, there is a cost to being an “essential worker” that I know many families in PC have already experienced first-hand. Teachers are obviously not the only ones who have had to make those sorts of tough decisions. As a teacher, I also realize we do more for the community than teach academic subjects. We are de facto child care, which means if we aren’t in-person, it is difficult for the local economy to function, and it places a major strain on parents and older siblings to care for younger children. Even for families who have the ability to work from home, this is difficult, not to mention the stress on families with multiple parents working outside the home who cannot telecommute. This is all to say: teachers are essential workers, in my opinion. I also want the community to understand that essential does not mean sacrificial, and given some of the plans expressed without teacher input, it feels a bit like the latter. I also miss my students and know online will never be as good as in-person instruction, so I don’t envy those making these decisions.

– The logistics for teachers going into next year are staggering. Assume a plan is officially in place the last week of July (they are releasing the plan July 20th, I believe, but will be revised and changed before submitting to the state). That allows roughly four weeks to prep for fall units and lessons. If you are a high school teacher, that could be three to five different courses. For elementary, it is all subjects. In a normal summer, I can work on new units, tweak old lessons, and generally prepare for the fall. This year, that is impossible, because we don’t know the delivery format for August 20th, how many students will be in our rooms, if they will rotate numbers every other day, or a variety of other logistical issues that impact the lessons I build. If the district decides on a hybrid model, we cannot simply take lessons we have previously constructed and put them online; much of our pedagogy is built around interactions between teacher-student and student-student. In the span of four weeks, we may be tasked with constructing the beginnings (there is no way to build a whole course in that amount of time without also knowing your students yet) of three to five courses for a hybrid model. That will be happening, still, with almost no formal training in online learning. We have not have any professional development on improving online instruction or best practice in digital pedagogy. Strong online instruction is an entire area of pedagogical and curricular expertise, and most of us don’t have the training for it.

Moreover, teaching in-person AND online is demonstrably more work than teaching only in-person. It is akin to teaching two separate classes. Lessons in one format do not translate to another. So if a student decides they want to learn online, a teacher would need to offer alternative instructional options, again increasing the workload. Some districts have addressed this issue by asking students to choose: they can either learn ONLY online for quarter, or ONLY in person, and some teachers are teaching ONLY online and others are teaching in person.

Lastly (and there is much more to post, but this is what is on my mind at the moment) as the previous teacher mentioned, if teachers start getting sick, that could become a nightmare quickly. It will be difficult to find subs, an issue that our district struggled with before Covid. If enough teachers are sick at once, a school may not have the bodies to cover the various classes that need subs. I’m sure the district is considering this, but it could snowball into a huge problem quickly.

None of this is to complain or moan about the situation. People all over the country are dealing with the difficulties of Covid in their personal and professional lives, often with tragic stories. This is only to provide more background so community members understand what teachers are facing professionally and what that means for their children, because ultimately we all do this for the kids. I know I miss my students every day.

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Parkrag

Thanks for the great information. I would recommend anyone who reads the Park Rag to read this, as it provides a good view of the decisions we face as a community/

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Thomas

Below is the letter sent out to parents.

Notice that Dr. Jill Gildea writes: “Every student and adult will be expected to have a face covering and wear it when distancing isn’t possible.” This statement allows people in the buildings to not wear face masks and goes against what Governor Herbert ordered.

Gov. Gary Herbert has ordered all K-12 schools in Utah to require face coverings to fend off the coronavirus.
The mask order covers anyone — students, teachers, staff and visitors — in a school building or on school buses in all 41 of the state’s school districts and public charters when the new school year begins in August.
________

July 13, 2020
Park City School District Families,
Since we transitioned to remote learning in March, we have worked to balance health
precautions with the educational and support needs of our students. Every week, we learn
more from our health experts about the COVID-19 virus. We learn from school systems
around the world how to keep our students and staff working, learning and healthy. We’ve
considered the overall effects of having schools open at full strength for our students and
families which is something that we have heard is critically important to our community.
As we plan for the reopening of school in August, we continue to review updated guidance
from our local health agencies, and we recognize the importance of remaining alert and
agile in our approach to returning.
Return to School Planning
As a result of our collaboration with the health agencies and the hard work of our PCSD
educator-informed Return to School Team, we are planning to open for full, in-person
instruction for our families and students on August 20, 2020.
We are excited to welcome our students and educators back to our schools, and we are
committed to doing it safely. We will strictly adhere to safety and health guidelines.
It’s important to understand that school will look different. There will be health screenings
of all students and staff at home – before boarding the school bus or arriving at school. This
requirement is an important partnership component of our safe return to school. Each of us
will help protect the community by staying home when feeling sickness. All will need to be
alert to common COVID19 symptoms which, for youth, can include gastrointestinal
symptoms. All should screen daily for fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, and shortness of
breath. Every student and adult will be expected to have a face covering and wear it when
distancing isn’t possible. That covers things like change between classes, walking to the
cafeteria, riding the bus, coming into the building, times in certain classes when group
work is happening. In the spirit of cooperation and safety, we can maintain a healthy and
safe learning community and mitigate risk for our families and staff.
Class schedules may be adjusted to keep groups of students together and limit student
movement throughout the day. There will be no assemblies or large gatherings, and
students will likely eat breakfast and lunch at assigned seats, or within their classrooms
pending school based use of large spaces. Students will not use communal supplies but will
have individual kits (like the old pencil box days.) Schools will have supplies of hand
sanitizer and soap to allow for frequent hand-washing, and classrooms and school facilities
will be disinfected regularly.
In the event of symptoms appearing during the school day, our school nurses will have
disposable masks, areas to safely isolate an ill child until family or emergency contacts can
be reached. It will be critically important to have your contact information, as well as that
of emergency contacts in the event of illness, up to date with school staff.
Instructional Models
While we are pleased to work on fully opening our schools on our regular school calendar,
we also know that some families will not be comfortable sending their children back for in person instruction. To address this concern, we are offering a full-time online option for
next school year for kindergarten through 8th grade. Please note that a robust dual
immersion program is more effective with in person instruction versus the online option.
We’re still in the process of finalizing plans for the fully online learning option, and we will
be providing additional information over the next couple of weeks so that families who are
interested in a full-time, online option have a clear picture of the tools and curriculum
available at this time. The online option is asynchronous versus a livestream model.
Families who choose the online option will not give up their enrollment at their current
school, so if there is a shift in a family’s comfort level with in person instruction, there will
be a seat for the student at their home school.
For our junior high and high school students, we recognize the use of the Canvas LMS
provides the opportunity for flexibility in learning from home, and this does remain a
viable alternative for those who wish to participate in remote or distance learning options.
Transportation
For families who will need bus transportation for next school year, we recommend that
students do wear a face covering during the bus ride. We expect health guidelines for
school buses that require masks to be worn and restrict capacity to two students per seat
unless all are members of the same family, which will limit the availability of transportation
to only those students who qualify for the state’s distance policy on 1.5-2.0 miles from the
school depending upon the age of the student.
Moving Forward
We know that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t over. We’re now seeing spikes in many states and
new highs of reported cases. In Utah, the rate of infection is relatively steady with tourism
driven increases these past few weeks in Summit County specifically. The data is clear that
the risk of child-to-adult transmission continues to be low and taking proper health
precautions, like wearing masks, further reduces medical risks. We have worked on backup
plans in case there are spikes of COVID-19 that would require us to move a group to remote
learning or to adjust schedules. We will follow health department requirements for how we
will handle any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our schools which we understand is:
isolate the case to prevent further exposure, remain at home for a specified timeframe if
symptoms persist, notification of those who have been in close proximity to a positive case,
and employ additional sanitization in learning spaces. We will continue to work with our
local health experts to make adjustments to our plans as needed.
Over the next few weeks, we will continue to share detailed plans for the new school year
as we continue our close partnership with our health experts.
I do wish to take this opportunity to give a huge thank you to the principals, teachers, and
district leaders who have spent long hours with deep care into an unprecedented planningand-preparation challenge. Their focus on equity, service, and caring for our children has
been a huge boost to our entire community.
I’m also grateful to our families and our educators for their strength and understanding.
We’ll provide you with more updates soon. In the meantime, please enjoy all of the
sunshine and warmth of these beautiful summer months.
Thank you and take good care,
Dr. Jill Gildea
Superintendent of Schools
Park City School District

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Anonymous

The whole plan scares me for the teachers,
kids and whole staff. Cannot believe the comments above that the teachers didn’t know! What?’!?
Because we can….Our plan is to do the online option, if nothing else, it will keep our family less open to infection until a vaccine is available and also free up space for those who aren’t able to do this option.
Looking around the world and how they all seems to be fine going back to school without a spike, i wish we would have had leadership to help steer this ship in the other direction. The direction of health, science and people over Wall Street. Alas here we are.

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FreeSr

Likely that PCEA represented teachers in re-opening discussions. I would have liked to see teachers play more of a direct role in these decisions. Perhaps teachers can file grievance with their union and claim a voice at the table.

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anonymous teacher

In an internal Q&A PCEA took care to remind us all that it’s not reeeaaallllyy a “union” so I’m not holding my breath on grievances or collective action


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