Potlatch schools plan full return to in-person classes

Cirka

The Potlatch School Board has approved a plan that would provide its students with four days of in-person education a week, although the tentative start date is dependent on a handful of factors.

The plan to increase face-to-face learning by two days a week was approved with a 4-1 vote in a meeting late Wednesday night. The return to a more normal schedule would take place by March 1, but it could happen sooner as long as interested employees of the district are able to receive both doses of vaccination shots.

“I think March 1 is a good number to put out there, but I think that’s the high end number,” Superintendent Jeff Cirka said about the timeline. “I think we can bring it in based on what the process looks like.”

The number of COVID-19 cases within the district, and within the county, will also factor into the start date. As of Wednesday, the district had no active cases.

During the meeting, board members pointed out that Latah County is in the yellow phase, depicting a moderate risk level of transmission, but the area the district serves currently lands at the green, or minimal risk, level. In order to stay in that category, where face-to-face learning can be provided more consistently, the zip codes the district serves would need to remain at seven or fewer cases of COVID-19 over a 14-day period.

Board member Mike Gilmore advocated for an even earlier start to more schooling, initially suggesting kids return to in-person classes four days a week on Monday. Gilmore was the only board member to vote against the approval of the reentry plan, citing the urgency to get students into the school more frequently as soon as possible.

“We have students failing, the test scores indicate that,” Gilmore said, referencing the impacts of the current hybrid schedule. “Our district is in green, so let’s go back to school with a mask mandate and get it done. I think the sooner we get this going, the better off we’ll be.”

Board member Keri LeForce voiced reluctance to start that soon, but amended her motion to put the four-day-a-week schedule into place as soon as the vaccination of employees was complete, which could move the target date of March 1 up by a week or two.

The rollout of the vaccines to teachers would allow the district to get students back into the classroom more frequently, while protecting staff, LeForce said.

As of Wednesday, 46 individuals said they wanted to get the vaccine, accounting for about 57 percent of the district’s staff. That number included substitute teachers.

The board will review information at its Feb. 10 meeting to pinpoint when the schedule change can occur.

No public comment was provided at the meeting, but parents expressed their frustrations that a return to more days of in-person education would not take place sooner in the Zoom chat.

“As a school board, you are elected to represent your patrons, not your own ideas,” wrote one participant. “Your patrons want the kids in school.”

The district currently requires masks inside of its buildings when social distancing is not possible, but a return to a four-day-a-week schedule would require facial coverings to be worn at all times within the buildings because of the size of the district’s facilities.

Justyna Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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