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West Ada School District floating new option for in-person learning

Masks will be recommended, but not required. Now the district wants to find out how many families are interested in additional COVID-19 precautions.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Masks will be recommended - but not required - in Idaho's largest school district when students return on August 26, but families who would rather not have their children in the same classroom as unmasked students or staff may have a new option this school year.

The West Ada School District has emailed a survey asking parents of children in pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade if they would prefer additional safety measures.

The latest guidance from the CDC recommends that students and staff wear masks while inside school buildings, whether they're vaccinated or not. Many parents have spoken out against mask requirements, but many other parents say they want more stringent measures than the current plan for the upcoming school year. 

"It just feels like West Ada School District is going out of their way to not do the right thing," said Justin Zanelli, a West Ada parent.

The district began offering an all-remote option - Virtual School House - during the 2020-21 school year.

Another possible option the district is floating is a supervised classroom where masks would be required, and instruction would likely be delivered through Virtual School House.

Those supervised classrooms would follow the West Ada bell schedules, but would not be at every school site in the district. Parents would need to provide transportation to and from school -- bus service would not be available. Some parents say they feel like they are being punished for trying to do the right thing by following CDC recommendations.

"They are getting the same level of education that virtual school house offers opposed to the in-person option they have enjoyed their entire lives. It just seems like these children and their families are being punished for trying to follow the advice of the smartest doctors in the world, and that doesn't make sense to me," Zanelli said.  

The survey gauging interest in alternative options is intended to determine interest in measures that go beyond the Safe Return to In-person Instruction Plan for all West Ada schools, which includes the following:

  • Masks recommended
  • Physical distancing as much as possible
  • Increased sanitation measures
  • Frequent handwashing

In contrast to parents asking for required masks, there are West Ada parents who've spoken out in recent weeks supporting the district's COVID-19 plan. Dozens have posted their support online, applauding the district's protocols and the opportunity to choose what is best for each individual family.

With two weeks until school begins, is it possible that COVID-19 protocols change again for West Ada? 

A district spokesperson tells KTVB,

"We are looking at all indicators on a daily basis.  We have learned that making predictions is very difficult during these challenging times.  We are committed to having in-person learning, five days per week in a safe learning environment."

Zanelli said he hopes West Ada will change course and require masks until the COVID-19 pandemic improves.

"It just feels like we are missing a layup, this is a layup opportunity for our children to be able to enjoy the education that these teachers have worked so hard to provide and we are just blowing the layup. It's right here, we have advice from the best people in the world and we are seemingly ignoring it," Zanelli said.  

The survey is open until August 20, and is available through this link.

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