BOISE, Idaho — Idaho schools are back in session, some with mask requirements, some without, and still others trying to figure out what’s best for their campuses. School administrators across the state share this goal: keeping students learning in-person, five days a week.
However, there’s already an elementary school in eastern Idaho that has had to transition to remote learning until after Labor Day. EastIdahoNews.com reports four of 12 staff members at Rockdale Elementary in Blackfoot have confirmed COVID-19 cases. There are no cases among the school's students.
“Our protocol basically says if we have evidence of community spread, then we isolate the cases, go to hybrid learning and try to get it out, and then get back to school,” Snake River School District superintendent Mark Kress told EastIdahoNews.com. “Mostly, it deals with the idea of it’s very difficult at this point in time to get substitutes, as well as we hope to eradicate the spread.”
With an Idaho school already seeing coronavirus cases impact learning, are Treasure Valley schools prepared in case this situation was to happen?
Boise School District:
Dan Hollar, Public Affairs Administrator for the Boise School District, said the district's COVID-19 response plan is very flexible. It’s been designed to for district officials to adjust based on what community health leaders and medical experts are saying, and those adjustments may be district-wide, for individual schools, or for specific grade levels.
Those adjustments could involve going fully remote or a hybrid model, Hollar explained.
Boise School District administrators are having multiple conversations each week with local health care partners on cases in schools, and will review plans for learning if safety becomes a concern.
Hollar said the goal is to keep kids in school five days a week, but if something were to happen the school district is ready to transition.
"With the experience we had last year, where we had to make adjustments very quickly and make sure our staff was well trained to be able to offer remote learning, we are prepared," Hollar said. "If we have to make that choice we are prepared.”
The school district has a device deployment to make sure there are enough devices and WiFi devices to do so successfully.
As of Friday, Hollar said things within the district are going well and there are no plans to shift to remote or hybrid at any schools in the near future.
West Ada School District:
The school district has had a remote learning plan in place since last school year, said Char Jackson, chief communications officer for West Ada School District.
If something were to happen that raised concerns for students' and teachers' safety, their plan isn't an overall district transition back to remote, but rather a school-by-school basis.
Any changes to a school campus's health and safety plans will be based on an in-depth review of the school's last 14-day average of positive cases. The review also goes hand-in-hand with the leadership dashboard:
- Impact of the virus on the community (using CDC’s weekly case counts).
- The overall impact of the virus on West Ada (cases per 100,000 by district/level).
- The number of positive cases for students and staff.
- Impact on students (quarantines due to COVID-19 and overall student absences).
- Impact on staff (quarantines due to COVID-19 and overall staff absences).
- The extent of the exposure risk.
- Case surveillance (distinct/cluster/outbreak).
The review is conducted and routinely monitored by the operational COVID-19 response team at West Ada, which is made up of the district's executive team, school administrators, health services, Central District Health and local health providers.
Activation of a review by the response team could happen in several different ways. Two or more clusters must be identified by a school's administration or school nurse. The principal will contact the health service supervisor to set up a meeting. The health supervisor can also call the principal if there are major concerns about any of the data points.
A school principal can also activate a meeting if there are any concerns, for example, a number of substitute-teacher needs go unfilled and they can't operate school safely.
The team looks at positive tests, exposures and close contacts. They also look at trends that could identify how many staff members and students need to quarantine.
That data could result in a number of steps that could be transitioning a classroom, department or school to remote learning.
Nampa School District:
According to the Nampa School District Back-to-School Plan, if there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school, the district will notify families. If there is an outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 cases that exceed 3% of the student body, the district will reach out to local health officials for their recommended guidance.
If there is a recommendation for a short-term closure, the Nampa School District will follow Southwest District Health and CDC guidelines that could include closing the school or a section of the school for cleaning and sanitizing for two to five days.
Kathleen Tuck, Nampa School District Director of Communication and Community Relations, said it depends on the situation.
"When we get to 3% out in a school, we will look at the situation on a case-by-case basis," Tuck told KTVB. "We won't automatically close a school."
The district looks at how big the school is and how they can handle the absences; for example, how many substitutes are available, how long the staff members are expected to be out, what courses they teach, etc.
Tuck said the district's goal is to keep school doors open when possible, but they understand sometimes it is not the best option for keeping kids safe.
Kuna School District
Kuna School District Communications Director Allison Westfall said the district is prepared to shift, if needed, for short-term shifts to remote learning.
Westfall explains the shifts could be because of exposure to coronavirus to several students and the need to quarantine, or because of staffing levels and availability of substitutes.
Remote learning shifts during the 2020-2021 school year included individual classrooms, grade levels and schools. The only district-wide shift to remote learning was one day taken as a precaution in anticipation of large numbers of staff needing to recover from side effects of their second vaccination.
Kuna School District will make decisions based on the situation. Westfall said there are devices for every student and a learning management system. They also have WiFi devices for families to check out if necessary.
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