Students, teachers prepare for classed under COVID guidelines
By Suzanne Dean
MANTI—We are ready.
That was the message from both Superintendent Ralph Squire in the South Sanpete School District and Superintendent Nan Ault in North Sanpete as the clocked ticked closer to the first day of school on Thursday.
“After months of preparation, discussions, surveys, focus groups and training, we feel prepared for the return of students to the classroom,” Ault said.
She credited the Central Utah Public Health Department and state officials with providing guidelines to help the district mitigate risk.
“As we reflect on the past three months, there is proof of the power of community,” Ault added. “Our district staff has worked relentlessly to find their way through this unique time.”
“We’ve never had a busier summer,” Squire said as the South Sanpete District staff and school principals devised and implemented plans to keep faculty, staff and students safe from the virus.
The most difficult aspect of preparation was the mask mandate, Squire said. “Masks have been a very polarizing topic. We have done everything we can think of” to educate people about masks and the need for compliance with the mandate.
On Tuesday, a letter was scheduled to go out from South Sanpete school nurses to all parents informing them that the only acceptable face covering is a tight-fitting mask. Contrary to earlier discussion, face shields do not fill the face-covering requirement, the letter said.
However, the letter also talked about how to seek a special accommodation if you do not feel your child can tolerate a mask.
To try to create some positive PR for masks, Travis Story, a business teacher at Manti High School, shot a video titled “Mask On,” showing Manti and Gunnison Valley High School students sitting in a classroom, socially distanced and wearing masks. The video is posted on the South Sanpete School District website.
The students talk about how everyone’s help will be needed to make school safe and about the phenomena of wearing masks. One student says, “I’m wearing my homemade cloth mask.” Another says, “I can be wearing a gator.” Another says, “I bought my overpriced mask at the mall.”
Finally, a girl refers to masks as “a small sacrifice and an easy solution to stay in school.”
Ault said 9.3 percent of North Sanpete students would be staying at home and studying on line, which means parents of more than 90 percent have selected in-person attendance.
In South Sanpete, a survey in late July showed about 85 percent of parents planned to send their children to school, while 15 percent planned to keep them home.
While the district won’t have any hard figures until about 10 days into the school year, “I think we might be a little closer to 90 percent” attending in person, Squire said.
Both superintendents said a major focus as schools reopen will be on the mental health of students as they return to school after a five-month absence.
In North Sanpete, a Student Support Team is helping teachers develop strategies for social and emotional learning, Ault said.
“It is about relationships and connections as we bring students and teachers together again,” she said. “…Regardless of differing opinions that exist, we all want our children to be healthy, educated and happy.”
In South Sanpete, Squire said the educational focus this year is captured in the slogan, “Return to learn.”
After such a long time away from school, some youngsters feel anxiety about the coronavirus, while others are anxious about returning to school, period.
“The unknown causes fear…We need to get them back to school, get them in a rhythm,” he said.
Typically, about a week into school, things start to normalize. Squire said principals and teachers will be working to restore that sense of normalcy.