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'This pandemic and the reopening of schools must co-exist:' Little, school officials address reopening as Idaho remains in Stage 4

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said that the achievement gap for Idaho children will continue to widen if students are out of the classroom for too long.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little doubled down on his statements that he wants schools to reopen for in-person learning this fall, even as he announced that Idaho will again be held in Stage 4 of the coronavirus plan.

Little acknowledged that school operations will look different from district to district. Already, districts in the Treasure Valley have come up with a host of plans that vary widely. The Nampa School District has said classes will be all online, while Boise schools will start online, then transition to in-person classes in September, and West Ada has pushed back the school start date by several weeks.

Little stressed that he is leaving those decisions up to individual districts and superintendents.

"The expectation is that schools will not be closed for extended periods of time during the 20-21 school year," he said. "I genuinely understand the deep concern of some teachers and parents about returning to school for in-person instruction. That is why we have put significant resources into the safe reopening of schools."

RELATED: 'I'm kind of panicked': Boise School District parent scrambles to find a way to make virtual learning work

The governor ran through the funds allocated to re-opening schools safely, including $10 million to buy masks, gloves and plexiglass for schools, $48 million to help bridge the digital divide, $21 million for COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff, and $3 million to pay for lab updates and fund quicker testing turnaround times.

"The unprecedented amount of money we are pumping into schools for safety should provide teachers and parents with the confidence to return to the classroom for in-person instruction," Little said.

Although infections are continuing to rise, particularly in Idaho's more-populated areas, Little noted that half of the counties in Idaho have less than 11 positive cases per 100,000 residents.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said that hospitals still have enough ICU beds, ventilators, personal protective equipment and staff to handle the current caseload.

RELATED: Coronavirus testing turnaround times in the Treasure Valley range from 3 to 14 days

The number of people turning up at emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms - and the proportion of those people who are sick enough to be admitted - is also trending downward, Hahn said, although she cautioned against celebrating too soon

"We're coming down from a very high number, so although this is reassuring, we recognize that we still have quite a burden of illness and quite a number of people ill in our state," she said.

The amount of coronavirus patients currently being treated in a hospital setting - a measure of those who are severely ill - is rising, she said.

"We really need to take that measure seriously, and that is why we do not pass out of Stage 4 at this time," she said.

Both State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and Idaho School Board President Debbie Critchfield said they supported the governor's stance, but warned against a "one-size-fits-all" approach for districts across the state.

RELATED: West Ada parents share concerns following five-hour school board meeting

Critchfield said that school officials need to make their decisions based on what is happening in their area and the specific needs of their community.

"Our hope is that it can be in-person, in some form or another, for some period of time, but we are certainly not suggesting or promoting that public safety be tossed aside for that end," she said. "But we don't believe that it needs to be. These are not exclusive ideals of being safe and also having some form of in-person learning."

Ybarra said that superintendents, teachers, and administrators know that the plans they come up with may change quickly in response to changes in the infection rates in their area.

RELATED: 'We're in a global pandemic, there is no playbook written for this': Boise School Board trustee explains reopening decision

"So much has been done in just a few short weeks and our districts are doing everything they can to be ready in the event they have to pivot to online learning at a moment's notice," she said. "But we know that computers and websites, apps and videos can not replace the in-person experience for schools and our students." 

"This pandemic and the re-opening of schools must co-exist," she added.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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