Mountain region schools return to class

After two weeks since the start of the new school year, the San Juan School Board received an update on how the academic year is progressing during a global pandemic.

Students are back in school in the mountain region of the district, which includes the schools in Blanding, Monticello, and La Sal.

Meanwhile the river region schools located south of Blanding are all participating in remote learning to start the year (See the story on page A1).

The decision to return to physical buildings or do remote learning was made based upon parental feedback at each school.

Although mountain region schools are back in session, students who want to participate in remote learning have been given that option.

Less than 30 percent of mountain region students chose that option during registration. The school district did report they are daily having students switch their registration to come back to in-school learning.

In anticipation of in-person learning, the district has put some policies in place for returning students and staff. Masks are required throughout the day and an early release was put in place to give teachers plenty of prep time.

Other challenges have arisen as the school year has begun, including in the cafeteria.

The school district requires students to wear masks while they wait in line and after they finish eating. They also encourage students to eat within 15 minutes and to try and distance themselves from other students.

District Curriculum Alignment Director Julie Holt reports that as more students return to schools, they are seeing more challenges.

At the beginning of the year they had hoped to provide six feet between students in the lunch room. A full cafeteria has required some schools to go to four feet, and students are likely to become even more tightly packed in the cafeteria.

“We’re finding as we have more students return that’s going to be more challenging,” said Holt. “We are going to have to start putting students closer together in order to manage that.

“We’ve always said in our plan and in working with Kirk Benge and the [San Juan County] health department that we would do the best we could in those situations. We just don’t have any other spaces to feed the students.”

The challenge is especially prevalent in the three Blanding schools.

Another arising issue relates to visitors to the school. In order to reduce risk, the schools have barred visitors and volunteers from coming into school buildings, but Holt says policies need to consider the need for parents to access their children.

Holt also says teachers would like to see the return of volunteers at some point, but the district is not ready for that.

Another challenge to the year relates to traditions. Both Monticello and San Juan high schools play their homecoming football games this Friday, September 18.

Many traditional activities such as assemblies, powder puff football, and dances will not be sponsored by the schools this year.

Homecoming royalty assemblies will be broadcast into classrooms but only competitors and their parents will be allowed in the auditorium.

Both schools will host a homecoming parade, but no candy will be thrown, and Monticello will not have floats. Both communities are putting on dances although they are not sponsored by the school.

The board did make some changes at the September 9 meeting.

At the start of the year, the district made the choice to not allow concessions at school events. At the meeting, the board altered the rule to allow pre-packaged items such as soda and chips to be sold at events.

Superintendent Ron Nielson also emphasized at the meeting that the district has to continue to consider all perspectives of staff as they make decisions during this academic year.

Holt said, “Our staff across the district are everywhere from ‘this is absolutely concerning to me, I feel this is life and death’ to ‘this is blown completely out of proportion.’ I get all the way in between, and we have to balance it, knowing and valuing all sides of concern.”

Nielson added his concern that regardless of personal philosophies, the district should be sensitive to make decisions that don’t make it more difficult to staff the schools.

San Juan Record

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