Human resources

As Salt Lake City schools transition to remote learning, what resources are available for students?

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — COVID-19 cases have reached an all-time high in Utah, and schools are among the hardest hit. Teachers called in sick at an alarming rate, as did students. According to Yándary Chatwin, executive director of communications and public relations for the Salt Lake City School District, a quarter of the staff at West High School was sick due to COVID-related issues last week.

Four schools in Utah – including West High School – have reached a high enough number of COVID cases to trigger the Test-to-Stay protocol, but due to the paucity of COVID testing statewide, the protocol does not could not be deployed.

Due to these aggravating factors, the Salt Lake City School District has made the decision to implement a three-day distance learning period beginning January 19 and ending January 21. West High School, in addition to East High School, Highland High School and Northwest Middle School, began remote learning on Tuesday.

Salt Lake City isn’t the only Utah district to make this decision, either. Canyons, Granite and Alpine are among other districts that have also pivoted to online learning this week.

And though schools in Salt Lake City are set to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 24, some are concerned about limited access to essential school-related resources.

According to Chatwin, however, making the decision to go virtual — and enlisting the right resources to do so — was much easier this time around.

“Our teachers have an advantage in that they have the most experience teaching remotely of any teacher in the state,” Chatwin says. “Because of the experience they had last year, it was much easier to pivot.”

And not only are teachers prepared to enter an online classroom, there are also a variety of resources available for students and families during the temporary period of remote learning.

Because learning from home requires access to the Internet and technology, the Salt Lake City School District will provide laptops and/or paper materials to students for all of their classes. For students at West High School, East High School, Highland High School and Northwest Middle School, resources were distributed during the week of January 10-14. All other schools will distribute materials on Tuesday, January 18.

Students in the Early Years Program will also have take-home learning materials and access to online resources. Families without online resources can check out iPads for Early Years.

And for those who don’t have Internet access at home, the Salt Lake City School District has a limited number of Wi-Fi hotspots available for payment.

Although Wi-Fi resources are limited, Chatwin says schools are equipped to provide resources to any families who need them.

“We know we have enough for our students to follow,” Chatwin says. “We’re not an individual district, so we don’t automatically send a device home with every student, but we know we have enough for everyone who needs it.”

She says the district gathered this information through the remote learning experiment last year, as well as a pre-emptive survey of student needs at home if remote learning becomes a reality.

But access to technology isn’t the only concern when it comes to distance learning. Parents of students receiving special education services also expressed concern about their child’s ability to access important educational resources.

According to the Salt Lake City School District website, students in the BSU (Behavioral Support Unit), AS (Academic Support), ASCEND, and ATLAS programs will receive four hours of in-person instruction on remote learning days, and will be district transportation to schools.

“Most children will learn remotely at home, but there are students who are better served in person,” Chatwin says. “With the majority of students out of the building, we feel we can safely continue to provide services to students whose needs might be a bit more specialized.”

And outside of education, schools provide additional resources that are essential. For families struggling with food insecurity, the two daily meals provided by public schools are a necessity.

For this reason, students in need will be able to eat combo meals for breakfast and lunch at 17 different locations around Salt Lake City.

Other districts in Utah have similar protocols regarding resources when learning remotely. Granite School District and Canyons School District will provide free hotspots and Chromebooks to students in need, as well as access to a variety of online educational and support resources.