BOISE, Idaho — The Boise School District's board of trustees has voted unanimously to move all students to virtual learning starting after the Thanksgiving break.
The remote-only learning plan will last from Nov. 30 until Jan. 15. Students will remain in the current hybrid learning model through Nov. 20.
Additionally, all athletic activities will be suspended, starting immediately.
The decision, made during a special board meeting Thursday afternoon, comes amid rising COVID-19 cases within the district and in the broader community.
From Nov. 3 - 12, the district reported 157 cases. Of that number, 126 were confirmed and 31 were considered probable.
Superintendent Coby Dennis said that transmission rates within the schools remain low, and attributed the cases in schools to spread within the larger community.
"Unfortunately, and it makes me sad to say this, but we're at a critical place right now where operationally we can't make this work anymore," Dennis said. "The things that we have been able to do because we had the people to do it, no longer can do for a period of time."
In a presentation to the board, Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts noted that the district is experiencing a severe shortage of staff members, including teachers, substitutes, and bus drivers. She also said that more than 1,500 students and staff were in quarantine due to the coronavirus. Most of them are not sick, she added, but are in quarantine because they have come into close contact with someone who has the virus.
Several board members expressed their disappointment in the community for not taking action - including wearing masks and practicing social distancing - to slow the spread of the virus.
"The actions of everyone outside of our schools is impacting what's happening in our schools," Trustee Beth Oppenheimer said. "And if we want schools to open, you've got to do what you have to do.
"I think it's really unfortunate that our kids are, ultimately, the ones who are in the situation where they are not getting the opportunities to learn inside a classroom or play sports or any of the other extracurricular activities that they want to do," she added.
Board member Maria Greeley was disappointed the district needs to return to remote learning but was also optimistic the community could change its behaviors.
"I feel like as a community we’ve failed our students but I do think we can turn this around," she said. "I do think we have a community that really values education and values our teachers and values our students being in the classroom."
The board members all agreed that they would prefer to have all students attending school in person, but that's not possible due to what Board President Dave Wagers described as an "impossible situation."
"We're trying to balance this very difficult act between physical safety and mental safety of students, and the mentally [that] we know they need to be in school," he said. "But it's not safe and physically they need to be out of school. But that's not safe the other way. So we're in the impossible situation."
District officials said teachers and schools will work with individual families to prepare for the transition from in-person to virtual learning.
Earlier this week, a group of school nurses who work in the Boise School District sent two letters to the board expressing their concerns about the rising case numbers and urging a return to online-only learning.
Wagers responded to the letters, saying the nurses' concerns will be a part of the decision-making process, along with guidance from Central District Health, medical experts and the Boise Education Association.
In a statement to KTVB on Wednesday, the Boise School District reiterated that it is listening to the concerns of all staff, including the school nurses.
“We are listening carefully to our staff and parents as we monitor the effects of COVID in our schools," the district said. "Our nurses are carrying an ever-increasing burden in contact tracing in our buildings. We appreciate hearing their perspective and are considering how we should proceed. Our Board will hold a special meeting [Thursday] at 4 pm.”
You can watch the full meeting in the YouTube player below.