San Juan School Board votes to move away from district-provided at-home learning

At-home online learning offered by the San Juan School District is going away for students in Blanding, Monticello, and La Sal. The district program, known as Option Two, was eliminated citing widespread lack of success among students and increased work-loads among teachers.

The change will not affect students in the River Region schools of the district, including all schools south of Blanding.

Data shared with the San Juan School Board at their October 14 meeting shows that of the nearly 300 secondary students in Blanding and Monticello using Option Two, about 80 percent were at risk of not earning course credit, with about 40 percent having not even started on assignments.

While Option Two is working for some Mountain Region students, including about 20 percent of secondary students and a little less than 50 percent of elementary students, the workload is tremendous for teachers.

Blanding Elementary School Principal Jay Porter reports he surveyed his teachers about what they can do to make the year more manageable, and 18 out of 22 teachers said eliminating Option Two would be the number one way to make their workloads more manageable.

Porter says asking staff to essentially teach double the classes has resulted in underserved populations for both at-home and in-school learners.

Several administrators and teachers spoke in favor of eliminating Option Two during the public comment portion of the meeting, including Rich Monson, President of the San Juan Education Association.

“Quite honestly it feels like two jobs,” said Monson. “We are headed down that road of just burning people out because we are trying to do so much.”

Two parents spoke out against the elimination of Option Two at the meeting. Monticello Elementary parent Allison Yamamoto-Sparks said her family has been grateful to the teachers and staff who have worked hard to make Option Two possible, especially as cases are surging in Monticello.

“My husband and I both work full-time and it’s put a tremendous amount of strain on us to teach our child from home,” said Yamamoto-Sparks, “but it’s a choice we make to try and keep our child safe and healthy.

“We are not in a position to commit to a full quarter of virtual learning with our son and ask that you please reconsider eliminating Option Two at this time when we’re seeing an increase of COVID cases in Monticello.”

After hearing comments and recommendations, the board voted unanimously to eliminate Option Two as constructed, excluding Lucille Cody who abstained from the vote.

Schools are contacting parents who are impacted by the elimination of Option Two in the Mountain Region. Students in the area will now choose between in-person learning at schools or home-based learning offered through a third-party educational platform.

Option Two will still exist at some level within the mountain region. The district offers a hybrid option that will temporarily be available to in-person students who experience a direct exposure to COVID-19 as determined by district administration and/or local health department officials.

This option will be referred to as the COVID-19 Hybrid Option. At the end of the final quarantine date, students will return to Option One learning.

The COVID-19 Hybrid Option is not available for those who self-select to quarantine without proper approval from school/district administration related to COVID-19 exposure.

Any student who would like to request approval for self-quarantine may share concerns with school administration to determine the best plan for that student.

Requests for special circumstances must be related to COVID-19 exposure to be approved by the School Administrator, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, and Superintendent for final approval.

The decision came right as Monticello is seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases, including at least three school students who tested positive and several staff.

As a result, San Juan Public Health placed 87 students under quarantine due to potential exposure to COVID-19. Those students will fall under Option Two learning until their quarantine dates end.

At the meeting, the board also approved an extension of the Fall Break for students through October 19. The extension was given to allow staff the opportunity to catch up on the growing workload at the end of the first quarter of the school year.

The Utah State School Board has allowed for six student free days this year that schools will not have to make up. The San Juan School District used four at the beginning of the year and now has one more day remaining.

The board also received an update on the River Region WIFI project.

The project will extend local area networks to provide filtered, low-speed internet to the communities surrounding local schools in the southern portion of the county.

The project includes Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain, White Mesa, and Bluff.

The program will install radios in homes that communicate with towers built throughout the area.

Education Technology Director Aaron Brewer reports the district is working with the contracted company Solectek to put “boots on the ground” to find the best lines of sight and radio paths.

The two have identified 19 large tower sites, and are in process of obtaining support to place the towers, including using the roof of Chapter houses with chapter permission.

Additionally, the district will install about 50 slightly smaller towers, each about 30 feet high, as guide towers.

Brewer says they are working to have the system installed soon, with a target date of December 31.

San Juan Record

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