We have reported on the failings of e-learning for our students, especially those who have various disabilities. The opposite of that is the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak at a school that opens too quickly for the level of spread in its community.
At one school district in an affluent suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, that’s exactly what happened. Now, at least 77 students and staff members have tested positive for Covid-19 at Corner Canyon High School in Draper, less than a month after school started. One person who caught it was a 54-year-old teacher, who was hospitalized and had to be put on a ventilator, The New York Times reports. The teacher has since recovered and returned home, according to a report in The Salt Lake Tribune.
Despite the size of the outbreak at the high school, the school board voted to switch to a hybrid learning model beginning this month. This move, while voted upon by the local board of education, goes against the advice of many epidemiologists and shows how school districts across the country are on their own, for the most part, when it comes to deciding how to provide education time for students during the pandemic.
“Once a school hits 15 or more, then our recommendation from a public health standpoint is to go 100 percent virtual, as the state school manual advises,” the Tribune quoted county health department spokesman Nicholas Rupp as writing in a text message in early September. “But it’s up to the school district. They are very concerned about it as well and have been very responsive.”
By the end of the month, the Canyons School District had closed three high schools, including Corner Canyon, telling about 8,000 of the district’s 33,000 students to learn from home, despite pleadings from several parents to provide students with some in-person learning. According to the district’s dashboard, the number of cases at Corner Canyon has fallen sharply since the school was shut down.
Corner Canyon is set to reopen tomorrow for some in-person learning. A similar hybrid model was started earlier this month at Alta High School in Sandy, which is also in the Canyons School District.
“Our superintendent has recommended to our school board for Alta to return to an in-person hybrid/split schedule as of this Wednesday, [October 7],” student reporter Ryan Witt quoted Alta’s principal, Brian McGill, as saying in The Hawkeye. “The split-schedule opens the door for students to return to campus for classes while also reducing the number of students on campus at any one time.”
Some experts base their recommendation for all-virtual learning not on the number of cases at a school but the number of cases in the local community where students and staff members live. One recommendation, from the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, advises schools in communities with more than 25 daily cases per 100,000 people to avoid in-person instruction altogether, keeping students and staff at home for all aspects of school.
Salt Lake County, in the two weeks prior to the district’s reopening of its schools, was reporting an incidence of 187 cases per 100,000 people, more than seven times the rate recommended by epidemiologists who are promoting strategies for “pandemic-resilient teaching and learning.” (The rate today is more than 600 daily positive tests per 100,000 people in the population.)