Utah colleges, including DSU and SUU, move to online instruction; K-12 districts take COVID-19 precautions

Stock image | Photo by AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Dixie State University and Southern Utah University announced Thursday that they will move to online instruction beginning March 23.

While K-12 schools in the Washington and Iron County school districts aren’t closing, they are taking preemptive measures to prepare should they be transitioned to remote instruction.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Gary Herbert spoke about the critical importance of taking action now.

“Today we stop making assumptions,” Herbert said. “Better to be too early than to be too late.”

A large focus of the conference had to do with K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Currently, there are 138 schools or districts across the nation that have closed, and 21 more are scheduled to close.

At this time, there has not been a decision made to shut down K-12 schools, Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said. However, there have been a set of recommendations for schools statewide, including cancellation of all out-of-state travel related to school, postponement of school assemblies and athletic events, and staggering times for recess, lunch and start and dismissal times.

“Please do not attempt to close a school unless directed by local officials,” Dickson said. “Not having kids in school puts weight on families. We’re not taking that lightly.”

Washington County School District Communication Director Steven Dunham told St. George News the district will continue working directly with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

“If we get to the point where we need to close, we are currently preparing our teachers to work remotely,” he said.

At the Washington County School District board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Larry Bergeson said the district has taken proactive measures in previous weeks to make sure that students, teachers and administrators are reminded to wash their hands and stay home if they are sick. Planning has been a collaborative effort between multiple agencies, including the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, police departments and first responders, he said.

“We’re reviewing overall risk. We don’t anticipate that we’re going to have to close schools, but we’re ready if we do,” he said. “We can remotely teach using Schoology in the elementary grades, (and) Canvas, the learning management system, in the secondary levels. So we’re prepared if we need to do it.”

In an email to parents Thursday, the district outlined plans for the coming weeks:

  • School will be in session Friday, and the district plans on school resuming after spring break on March 23. Any changes to these plans will be posted on the District website at http://www.washk12.org.
  • All school related out-of-state travel has been suspended immediately.
  • Many local school-related events and gatherings are being evaluated and some are being cancelled. Parents should check with their child’s school to see if an event is cancelled.

The Iron County School District posted on Twitter that they are “working to keep students, drivers and attendants healthy on transportation. All buses will be sanitized daily with EPA registered disinfectant. Children should wash their hands before/after riding the bus and cover coughs to help keep buses clean.”

Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney told St. George News the district is also working closely with the health department and local and state officials to follow all protocols and preparation in order to be ready for what could happen.

“The challenge is, it’s changing — not just day by day — but hour by hour,” Dulaney said. “And so we’re having to make sure we’re addressing the direction we’re being given by the health department and the state board in order to keep our kiddos safe and our educators and personnel safe.”

Dixie State University will move to online instruction following Spring Break.

The university outlined several actions taken. All lecture-style classes will be remote beginning March 23 to the end of the semester (there are some exceptions for hands-on classes required for degree completion). All large scale events are canceled through April 30, athletic teams will continue to compete, but will not be open to the public, and the campus is still open, but it is recommended to postpone visitations if possible. Graduation is still scheduled for May 1.

Along with Dixie State University, according to a press release, “Southern Utah University will join the seven other institutions of the Utah System of Higher Education and temporarily move from face-to-face courses to online instruction starting March 23, following SUU’s spring break, which begins Monday.”

The shift to online learning will extend until April 23 and will be re-examined as the situation warrants, according to the release. All academic programs will transition to classes taught online, with the exception of essential small group labs, including aviation flight labs. SUU’s campus will remain open including student housing, dining, the library, tutoring center, testing center and student center.

“This extraordinary move is being made to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus throughout SUU, Cedar City and Utah,” SUU President Scott L. Wyatt said. “At the governor’s direction, we are taking these steps for three reasons: to protect the health of our students, faculty, staff and Cedar City neighbors, to slow the potential spread of the virus, and to ensure the continuity of our core mission — educating our students.”

SUU’s 2020 commencement ceremony is currently scheduled for April 24 and is expected to take place.

Due to the developing COVID-19, all students are encouraged to limit travel during spring break. All university-affiliated travel in international locations has been suspended until further notice, and all University-sponsored or endorsed domestic travel is strongly discouraged, according to the release.

“These are obviously significant steps that will cause disruption and disappointment, which we all regret,” Wyatt said. “We, nonetheless, at the governor’s direction, are compelled to take these steps in light of the most recent evidence. The virus continues to spread nationally. We still do not yet have a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Iron County, so our risk remains relatively low.”

COVID-19 information resources

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!