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Payette High School reopens in limited capacity

Students will need to call their teachers to schedule in-person appointments.

PAYETTE, Idaho — The Payette School District is one of the first in the Treasure Valley to allow students back inside school buildings.

The high school is reopening in a limited capacity. Prior to opening its doors, the district had to meet the Idaho State Board of Education's re-entry criteria.

The new setting will be far from a normal high school environment though. Students will be able to call a teacher and schedule an appointment for in-person sessions.

“It's best for kids, and that's how every decision in our district is made,” Payette High School Principal Jake Williams said.

Instead of getting help inside a classroom, the district has set it up so teachers will meet with students inside the gymnasium. They picked the gym because it’s a big open space. 

But they’re still using caution when it comes to social distancing and sanitation. 

RELATED: Idaho State Board of Ed decides on criteria to reopen schools

“Kids are screened when they come in, the areas will be sanitized and all that sort of thing,” Williams said. “We ask a few basic questions like if they've had any symptoms, we do take their temperature in order to keep everyone safe.”

The main areas where kids will work will be at desks with a Plexiglas barrier between them and the teacher.

Each table will be separated by six feet minimum, according to Williams. As of Tuesday, there are only two desks inside the gym. This means only two students can come in at a time. They're working on adding up to 10.

Teachers and staff will be required to wear masks and gloves, students are not being asked to wear them though because of the Plexiglas barrier.

“We're all trying to figure out how to support one another and support the kids,” Williams said.

Students can call their teachers and set up 30-minute appointments as needed, but Williams said if a student needs more time to work on something that can be scheduled as well.

That's the big reason why the district is doing this. Robin Gilbert, the district's superintendent, says teachers have done a great job of tracking students’ progress since the school started remote learning.

“There was a few that they were losing. They were falling,” she said. “They were picking up packets but weren't returning them or hearing back.”

The one-on-one time with teachers can help those students who were struggling with remote learning get to the finish line.

“So those at-risk kids, and those that were just falling off the map, it’s worth it,” Gilbert said.

However, developing the plan wasn't easy. Because of the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, there was no blueprint to follow. Instead, Gilbert pulled together paperwork from legal counsel, the State Board of Education, the governor’s office, and CDC guidelines to create a plan.

The hardest part, according to Gilbert, was identifying the peak of COVID-19 infections for the Southwest District Health area - one of many criteria mandated by the SBOE.

“So, I actually took that date off of a document that was given to us by legal counsel and Southwest District Health said nobody explained the peak, and I said well legal council did,” Gilbert said.

Ultimately Southwest District Health and The Payette School District Board of Trustees approved the reopening plan.

“If you can be there, if we can help you through it, we will do everything we can to make it safe,” Gilbert said.

The district is asking students who are in the at-risk population to COVID-19, or those living with someone in the at-risk population to continue distance learning.

Gilbert told KTVB students at McCain Middle School can also start calling their teachers for a one-on-one meetings there as well.

RELATED: While schools have a plan to reopen and Idaho businesses enter Phase 2, people still need to wear face masks

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