The decision may impact negotiations with the Legislature over teacher bonuses.
Salt Lake City School District will delay reopening its junior high and high schools in early February as planned, postponing any in-person return to classrooms until after teachers can get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The decision came just before midnight Tuesday after nearly four hours of debate by the city’s board of education. Members bickered back and forth, often interrupting each other and parsing each word of the proposal before it passed 5-2.
“What we’ve done tonight is basically throw everything into limbo,” said board member Kristi Swett, who opposed the move.
Salt Lake City School District has been the only one in the state to have its classes entirely online this fall. And the Republican-led Legislature has strongly disagreed with that decision, with now-Gov. Spencer Cox previously calling it a “huge mistake” that was damaging children.
Board President Melissa Ford, the other opposing vote, said the district always intended to move forward and get students back to the classroom as soon as possible, suggesting that in-person instruction is best for learning. But other members said they didn’t appreciate the state pressuring them into returning before they felt it was safe.
“Our arm is being twisted,” said Mohamed Baayd, who is newly elected to the board.
The district has previously looked at data for the other four districts in Salt Lake County that all reopened in person. It shows that the rate for transmitting the coronavirus has been the same for those elementary students learning in the classroom as it has for the kids in Salt Lake City who have stayed home. As such, the district has felt comfortable moving forward with allowing them to return.
“It’s just not safe,” pleaded Edward Sanderson, a senior at West High, who asked the board to keep junior high and high schools online until the virus is more contained.
This story is developing and will be updated.