Catholic schools tentatively plan August re-opening
Friday, Jul. 31, 2020
SALT LAKE CITY — As July gives way to August, many parents and children are wondering just what’s it’s going to look like when students and staff return to school. Under current state directives, all Utah schools, even those in Salt Lake City, which is still in an Orange health status, may open if they follow strict health protocols. As of press time, all Utah Catholic Schools are planning on opening for in-person instruction on Aug. 17.
Bishop Oscar A. Solis has directed all the schools to follow the state guidelines, said Utah Catholic Schools Superintendent Mark Longe.
“The bishop is always taking safety into account, the safety of our students and our staff,” Longe said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we follow those directives in order to keep our community as safe as possible. If the state health experts are giving advice, and that advice is to protect students, faculty and staff, then we’re going to follow that advice.”
While another statewide shutdown is not anticipated, each school is prepared to deal with short-term closures if an outbreak occurs and the health department orders a closure, Longe said. “If they have to pivot and schools are closed, and kids have to stay home for two weeks, the kids will be ready and the teachers will be ready to shift to remote instruction.”
Each of the schools has sent out to parents an individual plan, approved by Longe, indicating the safety practices that will be implemented. The plans vary based on the size of the school and its student population, but all follow some basic safety protocols.
Social distancing will be practiced at all schools. Each student’s temperature will be taken before they enter the classroom and all students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks. (Some teachers may wear face shields or special clear face masks so students can see their lips).
In the classroom, desks will be spaced as far apart as feasibly possible. Non-essential furniture may be removed. Schools may institute traffic flow patterns in the halls to ensure social distancing. Lockers may be off-limits during the pandemic.
Hand sanitizer will be available throughout all schools and students will be instructed in correct handwashing protocols. Each school will instruct students on these protocols and ensure they are comfortable following them.
“Students are going to know what’s expected of them and why; every school has a plan in place,” Longe said.
All schools will provide in-person instruction to some degree. Utah Catholic Schools are unable to offer across-the-board online-only instruction for parents who do not wish their children to return to the classroom, Longe said.
“We don’t have the personnel to run a full online program and a full in-person program,” he said. “It’s just not operationally possible for us to do that as a diocese.”
Parents of high-risk students or those who have high-risk individuals in their households should meet with their school principal to determine what accommodations can be made, Longe said.
If parents elect to pursue public school or home school options during the pandemic, they will be welcomed back to the Catholic school at any point as long as there is space, Longe said.
In the classroom, each student will have his/her own supplies. In-person group work will be extremely limited. Instead, students may be able to collaborate virtually on projects through the use of computers.
“I can’t imagine what this would have been like 40 years ago, but now, with the blessing of all of the technology that we have, you can have a group of kids working together” but socially distanced, Longe said.
In the elementary school grades, a normal five-day school schedule will be followed. Some schools may choose to have the students stay in a home classroom and have the teachers move between classes.
Each of the Catholic high schools has a different plan.
St. Joseph’s Catholic High School will offer in-person classes on a block schedule Monday through Thursday, with remote learning on Fridays. Remote-only learning will be offered for high-risk students and international students who have been unable to return to campus, Principal Clay Jones said.
At Juan Diego Catholic High School, all classes will meet in person, with limitations on class size. The school will follow a modified A, B, C, D schedule. It will rotate as normal, but Wednesdays will be for online programs. An online-only program will be offered for high-risk students or for those whose parents opt to have them learn remotely. All classes will be livestreamed or available on Canvas. A hybrid option will be available for students who stay home because they are sick.
Judge Memorial Catholic High School is in Salt Lake City and currently under an Orange health status. As such, conditions are changing on a daily basis, Principal Patrick Lambert said. The current plan is to open with a hybrid of in-person and online instruction (two days in person and three days online, with students divided into two groups.) Other options have been drawn up for when the city moves to Yellow and Green health designations.
At all schools, students will continue to attend Mass in a socially distanced manner. Schools might schedule more-frequent services so students can attend in smaller numbers.
“That’s just a big part of who we are,” Longe said.
In schools where cafeterias are large enough that social distancing may be practiced, students will eat lunch in the cafeteria. Additional lunch periods may be added. For schools where this is not feasible, students may eat lunch in their classrooms.
P.E. classes likely will be held outdoors if the weather permits. Non-contact sports will be encouraged. Teachers also are developing physical fitness activities where students don’t come in close contact with one another. Teachers in subjects such as dance and theater are developing plans that allows students to social distance in class.
Sports teams will follow National Federation of State High School Associations and Utah High School Activities Association guidelines. Currently, that means leagues will be held and games will be played against other teams, including those from public schools, if there are sufficient players. School administrators are still working out what will happen with Catholic Youth Organization sports, Longe said.
Field trips will be limited and there will be no large assemblies during the pandemic. Some extracurricular activities such as clubs may be allowed if social distancing can be practiced. Each principal will determine which activities may be allowed, Longe said.
Students who travel to and from school on a bus will need to wear masks at all times. Extra buses may be added.
Parent volunteers and access to each school will be limited to protect the health of the students and faculty.
“Not everybody will agree with these plans or think that this is really the best plan, but we’re trying to do the very best and working very hard to accommodate the kids and to continue the mission of Catholic education in the safest way possible for our students, faculty and staff,” Longe said.
For information about each school’s individual plan, parents should contact their school principal.