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West Ada School District partners with medical professionals to address coronavirus protocols

As coronavirus cases in Ada County increase, West Ada is partnering with medical professionals to determine how to safely hold in-person learning going forward.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — As Idaho schools try to balance following COVID-19 protocols and bringing students back for in-person learning, schools in the West Ada School District have reached out to medical professionals for advice.

The district is now working with Dr. David Pate, retired CEO of St. Lukes Health System and a member of the state’s coronavirus task force, to explore their options for bringing students back full-time.

“I’m not going to just sit in my comfortable chair in retirement and criticize you," Pate said. "I’m willing to be a part of the solution."

Pate, other medical professionals and West Ada teachers will help schools tailor their reopening plan so students can return to in-person learning in a responsible way, according to chief communications officer for West Ada Char Jackson.

“Recently, we reached out to Dr. Pate, who has been very generous and has committed to helping us with our reopening plan and just hone that and update it and make sure we are doing everything we can possibly do,” Jackson said. “What can we change, what are we in control of, what are we not in control of?"

While there are fast changes that can be made, this is a comprehensive process, not just words on paper, according to Pate.

“We will go through starting outside the school, and I just ask questions," Pate said. "What do you do if this, what do you do if that? I make sure that they're good answers. They don’t have to be my answers, but they need to be good, thoughtful answers.”

Pate won’t personally walk through every West Ada school but intends to work with the district on strategies to audit whatever the final plan looks like.

He also does not think the team of medical professionals should come in and direct schools on what to do with every single thing. The process will be collaborative between all parties involved.

“If you can combine the expertise of medical experts or public health experts with their expertise of education then we’ve really got something powerful," Pate said. "They have been very open, very receptive so I do think this is a very good sign."

The conversations Pate has had with West Ada School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Ann Ranells have shown common ground can be found between stakeholders.

The comprehensive process is in its early stages, but Pate and other professionals have already invested a lot of time into the plan. 

Put simply, it comes down to executing two important factors.

“Physical distancing, by far the most important, and wearing masks," Pate said. "I think we need to send a clear message, we have got to be clear with our teachers, our staff, our principals that yes, we’ve got a whole lot of things that we want to do. Sure, washing your hands is important, cleaning surfaces is important, there is a lot of things there. But if I could only have two things? Keep people apart and have them wear masks."

West Ada also has a new dashboard online with COVID-19 statistics so everyone can see the data that leads to decision making.

As ideas work their way through the process, the goal is for school officials, board members, and staff to ultimately have a comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan. 

Pate is hopeful that when students return from winter break, concrete and effective plans will be ready for action.

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