On January 5, 2021, a heated debate in the Salt Lake City Board of Education came to a close with a 5-2 vote. The ruling: junior high and high schools won’t reopen in February as planned, postponed instead until teachers can be fully vaccinated. The delay runs counter to an agreement the Salt Lake City school district made with lawmakers back in mid-December, which would have given secondary teachers a $1,500 bonus to come back to school in February.

When the December deal was made, however, Utah had assured the school district that teachers would begin receiving their vaccinations on January 8 and 9 and receive their second doses before the February 8 start date. Federal delays in shipping have pushed those dates back to the end of January at the earliest, meaning teachers won’t have immunity before the end of February.

Most members of the Salt Lake City Board of Education felt that the bonus, and the threat of losing it, were a tactic meant to intimidate teachers into going back while in-classroom education is still a high-risk situation.

“Our arm is being twisted,” said Mohamed Baayd, a Salt Lake City teacher and Board of Education member.

Those in opposition to the delay insist that remote education is doing permanent damage to current students.

“I am disappointed by the position taken by the Salt Lake City School District Board, who seem ready to accept their students falling significantly behind their counterparts in surrounding districts,” said Brad Wilson, speaker for the Utah House of Representatives. “Throughout the state, other districts have implemented precautions that allow students to benefit from in-person instruction while protecting teachers and staff. Students in Salt Lake should not be left behind.”

The teachers’ union that serves Salt Lake City School District has made it clear in a letter to the board that their members prioritize their health and lives over the possible bonus, and plan to continue instructing online until the vaccine is secure.

Photo: The Salt Lake City skyline at dusk. Credit: Shutterstock