The Idaho State Board of Education issued guidance this week for the state’s K-12 schools to reopen in the fall, but local school district officials say there is still work to be done before they are prepared to resume live instruction.
Despite new guidance, Moscow Education Association President Lacey Watkins said specific strategies for how reopening for in-person classes will be managed are still in the works.
“We’re still not sure what practices or policies are going to be put into place to keep children safe; to keep (teachers) safe, so we still feel like we’re waiting — and August is just around the corner,” she said. “We want to be with our students, we want to be in the classroom but we also want safety needs met and it needs to be really crystal clear.”
The state board on Thursday approved a framework to help districts to decide when and how to reopen. The framework is broken into three categories related to community spread.
The first allows schools to reopen to in-person instruction so long as community transmission of COVID-19 remains near zero, the second gives districts with minimal to moderate transmission a great deal of flexibility to deliver instruction in person, online or through a combination of the two, and in the third category, where substantial community transmission is taking place, schools are advised to switch fully to remote learning.
Moscow Superintendent Greg Bailey said based on local transmission rates, the Moscow district would start in Category 2 of the plan. This means the district will prepare for live instruction in the fall but will have measures in place so that students continue their education at home if they miss school because of COVID-19. He said he also expects the district will temporarily suspend its policy requiring students to meet a 90-percent attendance rate.
Bailey said current spikes in local cases of COVID-19 have given him cause for concern, but the district should be in good shape to reopen in August, so long as community members do their part in keeping transmission rates low.
“I’m going to be on pins and needles in August and September as our students are coming back and people are out and about,” he said. “I think it’s our whole community’s concern right now and we’re hoping people maintain and take all the precautions now. I agree with the governor that what we do now will affect the fall.”
Watkins said the task facing teachers in the fall would be a lot less daunting if they could count on more state support, noting that recently released data shows Idaho spends the least money per K-12 student than any other state. She said educators were already struggling to meet the needs of their students before the pandemic and now they’re being asked to do even more while state support continues to atrophy.
“If we want in-class, face-to-face learning, then we need to be willing to provide schools with what they need to do that,” she said. “Part of that is funding ... if you want us to have schools that have smaller class sizes so that kids can actually be six feet apart, that costs money.”
Summer Day, parent and pediatric medical director at Gritman Medical Center, said she thinks it is reasonable for schools to plan for in-person instruction in the fall, so long as community spread remains low. She said there must also be a comprehensive backup plan for how to proceed if disease trends worsen and that plan must allow for parent and teacher input.
Day said everyone in the community can take simple steps to help reduce spread including washing hands and wearing masks.
“We know masks are useful in reducing spread,” she said. “There’s so much science — when people talk about other countries that have reduced their spread, have opened schools, have been doing okay — those people are wearing masks.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to email@example.com.