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Sugar House Journal

Omicron variant forces Salt Lake School District students back to remote learning

Students and parents are experiencing déjà vu, as the district announced that virtual learning will be reinstated for the foreseeable future. (Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City School District)

By Lizzie Walje | [email protected]

In an emergency Salt Lake City School District board meeting held Jan. 14, board members decided that all of the district’s schools would temporarily transition to remote learning. The three-day remote learning period will be in effect from Jan. 19 to Jan. 21.

In the wake of omicron, Utah has experienced record case numbers. On Jan. 13, the state reported a jaw-dropping 12,990 cases, the highest single day case load ever recorded. Since then, the state has faced massive supply shortages as well as increased pressure on hospitals where overworked staff are fighting to find space to accommodate infected people.

The exponential surge of omicron was the leading catalyst behind Salt Lake City School District’s decision to transition students to temporary online learning. Despite the challenges of implementing online learning, district spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin had a rather optimistic approach to the unfortunate circumstances. 

“This time around it was a lot easier for [us] to decide to go virtual. Our teachers are fortunate to have an advantage in that area, as we have the most experience in the state teaching remote. Because of the experiences of the previous years, we’ve been able to successfully pivot to online learning,” Chatwin said.  

Chatwin also assured parents of the district that resources are available to help students during this transitional time including continuous efforts to help students access technology, the continuation of grab-and-go lunch programs, and more. These services are especially helpful for students who may struggle with online learning initiatives.

“Most kids will be able to learn at home and do so effectively. At least temporarily. On the other hand, we recognize that not every student is successful in doing so. Some students have specialized needs that are better met in person, and we’re prepared to do what we can to accommodate them as best we can for the time being,” Chatwin said. 

Prior to closures, several schools in the district had reached high enough infection rates to qualify for a test-to-stay program. The program, which came as a result of the passing of Senate Bill 107, was put in place to help rapidly determine the health of large numbers of students and effectively siphon healthy students to partake in in-person learning. Unfortunately, this mandatory testing protocol was suspended due to a critical shortage of necessary testing supplies. 

With unprecedented numbers of students and educators calling out sick, schools across the state have turned to remote learning to help bounce back. In fact, given the severity of omicron’s spread, the Utah legislature has had to renege on their own previous remote learning ban. It was previously prohibited for public institutions to implement remote learning for more than one day at a time during any academic calendar week. Districts and charters had been required to offer at least four in-person learning days despite the sagging infrastructure of schools.

In a letter penned by the district to students and parents, it’s made clear that online learning is strictly temporary. “We realize remote learning is not the ideal learning scenario, which is why this change is only temporary. Our hope is that, combined with the Jan. 22-23 weekend, these five days away from school will help us to curb the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. We look forward to welcoming our students back to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 24.” 

Will the Jan. 24 return date be long enough to help mitigate the recent omicron crisis? Like most matters related to the pandemic, only time will tell. In the meantime, the district will continue to do its best to keep students safe and that includes encouraging students to get the Covid-19 vaccination. 

To find out more information regarding testing, vaccination providers, and more visit