Hillcrest Jr. High math teacher Jennifer Allred said she looks forward to having students return. (Mark Wetzel, KSL-TV)
MURRAY — One day after the Salt Lake County Council voted to overturn a mask requirement for students ages 12 and under, the Murray City School District welcomed seventh graders for their first day of school.
“The vibe is cautiously optimistic,” said district spokesperson Doug Perry. “There’s a sense of confidence that we’ve done this before, we can do it again.”
Perry said the district was relieved that the decision about the mask requirement came before the start of school.
“We’re just glad that we have something in place that we know is the protocol,” he said. “We know what we can and can’t enforce.”
On Thursday, the council voted 6-3 to terminate a short-lived mask mandate for grades kindergarten through sixth grade that was issued by Dr. Angela Dunn, the executive director of the county’s health department.
Perry said mask-wearing appeared to be evenly split when seventh grade students showed up for class on Friday.
“Maybe 50/50 amongst the students that I saw — and teachers,” he said. “It just seems to be something that everybody is making their own personal decision on, which we respect and honor.”
Hillcrest Jr. High math teacher Jennifer Allred said the pandemic forced teachers and students to adapt.
“The comfort I have is that we did have last year,” she said.
Allred prepared her classroom on Friday and said she looks forward to having students return.
“We’re just excited to be back, but we’re also very aware of the fear,” she said.
When it comes to mask-wearing, she said it shouldn’t be a fight against each other, but instead a fight to stay in school.
“Wearing masks or not wearing masks, there’s the option, and I think that ultimately, when it comes to it, we’ll know how to rally together,” Allred said. “We’ll know how to stay in school the best we can. The students want to be here. We want to be here.”
Only about one percent of students in the Murray district have opted for online learning for the upcoming school year, Perry said. That equals to about 60 to 70 of the district’s 6,000 students.
As school gets underway in many districts next week, Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said there is anxiety among teachers.
“I think that’s what I’m hearing the most this year is just that level of uncertainty, that we had hoped that this was behind us, and now, it’s just not,” she said.
Matthews said the state needs to support the adults who make school happen.
“If we’re going to have this flexibility, it needs to come with some assurances that when our educators do get ill with the virus, which inevitably we will have many — just as we did last year — that there are supports,” Matthews said.