Utah School Board rejects bid for stricter reopening rules

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Board of Education has rejected multiple proposals requiring stricter precautions against the coronavirus as schools reopen across the state.

The board voted 9-5 Thursday against a series of mandates, including one that would limit the number of students in a classroom if community spread spikes above the 5% reopening threshold set by the World Health Organization, the Deseret News reported.

The board did move to require school districts to draw plans and protocols for how they would respond in the event of an outbreak. Each district must also decide how to balance education against current public health risks.

The changes came a few weeks before about 667,000 students are expected to return to school online, in-person or in a combination of the two.

Some have called for greater preventive measures ahead of reopening, saying it would help ensure students and employees can stay safe and avoid potentially infecting those at home with COVID-19.

“It does us no good to open the schools up and then immediately close or have to shift to another model due to positive cases,” Board member Scott Hansen said. “I think it’s late, but it’s not too late to do the right thing.”

Park City and 24 other districts — mostly in rural areas — will allow students to return full time. Another 16 will shorten days or divide students into groups attending in person on separate days. Only Salt Lake remains fully online.

Several teachers on Thursday pleaded with the state board to set statewide standards, saying some districts aren’t going far enough to keep students and employees safe.

“Everybody wants to make sure that parents, students and teachers feel safe and are safe as they return to school,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. The revamped guidance directs students, teachers and other school employees to stay home for two weeks if they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive. Face coverings will also be required.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert also acknowledged teachers’ concerns about personal protective equipment, saying each of the state's 28,000 teachers and 16,000 other school employees will receive a set of five KN95 masks and two face shields.