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Boise schools making preparations for online learning

Spring break is over for thousands of students but they can't go back to the classroom just yet.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho schools' involvement with COVI-19 goes back to March first when a letter was sent out to parents about a jazz festival in Moscow that was attended by a Seattle area school.

A student from a Snohomish high school tested positive but did not go to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, even though students from that school did.

It didn't appear any confirmed cases came out of that festival, but schools that sent kids to it from around Idaho were force to face the inevitable.

The coronavirus was coming.

And it came with the announcement of Idaho's first case on March 13.

Two days later, schools started closing across the state including here in the Treasure Valley.

Since then schools have been out a week before the already scheduled spring break.

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Well, spring break is now over and several districts are addressing getting back to some sort of normalcy.

To do that schools have quickly turned to online learning.

For all districts like Boise's, logistics is the biggest hurdle -- the question of who has what technology and access to the internet.

Can you reestablish a routine and offer structure for tens of thousands of students during a pandemic-induced, statewide stay-at-home order?

The Boise School District believes they can and they've been working on it the past two weeks. District spokesman Dan Hollar outlined their plans for us.

"We've has a lot of staff members in over spring break meeting on a regular basis, working diligently to put this plan into place. It's really in two phases now. The first phase is rolling out that stay at home learning and essential services website that we have up and running now, and phase two is mid-April, being able to roll out course-specific content information and resources for families."

"So parents can expect a phone call from their teacher, checking in on them, seeing how they're doing, checking on the family making sure everything is fine, and if it's not, connecting them with resources in our community and assessing their technology and internet needs, and they're moving forward on addressing those. If we have some voids as far as families that don't have the right technology, they don't have internet, then we're working on providing that for them."

"We have thousands of Chrome books in the district, so we are ready and willing and able to loan those out. We have fought long and hard about this, we've done a lot of work on the ground and now it's a matter of taking the next couple of weeks and identifying the needs of our families and I cannot stress that enough, please, please, please when you get that call from your teacher, it may come from a non-district telephone number, and the important thing is to pick it up and respond because we are trying to assess your technology and device needs, so please respond."

"We have grab-and-go meal sites. We've extended that and expanded that this week so we will have alternative paper copies for learning at those sites with six elementary schools participating in that, so we're trying our best to get all this information to parents who don't have access to the internet with those paper copies."

"There's no doubt that you cannot replace bricks and mortar school completely online, there's just no way you can do that. We have such a positive connection with our families and our students in so many ways, whether it's activities at neighborhood events, so on and so forth. We understand there is a need to reconnect and establish those relationships with a sense of compassion and grace and love with our students, so we're going to do that with the best of our abilities knowing that these are unprecedented times, that, like you, we are going through the challenges but we know that online learning is an opportunity for our students to continue their educational journey, and that's what we're trying to accomplish."

"The other thing we want the public to understand is that we know people are hurting in this community right now, that the news of unemployment claims up 1,200 percent in one week, that's huge and we know a lot of families are going through some tough times now, so we understand that the online learning can be something they meet with some challenges by those families and we want to respond to that."

Hollar told us they do have a rough idea already of how many of their 25,000-plus students have access to the internet from home, but they need to nail down some specifics.

So if you are a student or you have a student in the Boise School District, expect a phone call from a teacher and help them figure this out right along with you.

The West Ada School District, the state's largest, sent out an email to parents this weekend saying they will be going online starting April 13 and they will also be reaching out to assess the needs of their families.

We had several questions to The 208 about graduation and whether this will extend the school year. Nobody knows at this point.

The Idaho State Board of Education shut down in-school classes until April 20.

They will reassess a lot of things when we reach that date.

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