MERIDIAN, Idaho — The crossroads of the COVID-19 pandemic has always been centered on schools. Even in the beginning, when very little was known about the virus, there was a collective understanding that a limit had to be put on the number of people allowed in one area.
Nearly one year later, there is a push to put students back in the classroom full-time in Idaho's largest school district.
West Ada School District has had first through fifth grade in a full-time, face-to-face schedule since November 2020. On Tuesday night, the West Ada Board of Trustees will meet to determine if schools should allow students in grades six through 12 beginning in the fourth quarter of the school year.
The board will consider the criteria put forth by two committees, one for high school and one for middle school.
The committees, comprised of parents, teachers, principals, nurses, district administrators, local health experts and board trustees, met for six hours over several days a few weeks ago.
In order to return to daily, in-person learning, all West Ada School District staff must have been given the opportunity to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. All staff must also have been given the additional two weeks after the second dose to reach peak immune response.
There must also be a student and staff positivity rate below 2% for two consecutive weeks.
As of Friday, 2,034 West Ada employees have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, almost exactly half. This means another 2,000 would still need their first shot followed by the second shot 28 days later, and the two weeks required to reach peak immunity.
With about eight weeks until the fourth quarter, meeting the set criteria is very possible, but one West Ada high school teacher is wondering if it should be done.
His concerns were backed up by the West Ada Education Association, who put out a social media post over the weekend:
Most West Ada teachers have settled into a routine with smaller class sizes, synchronous teaching and low COVID-19 numbers in the schools.
So why not continue until next year?
"We didn't, as a group, have any sort of larger discussion about the merits or the risks or anything at all," said Zachary Borman, a competitive speech and debate teacher at Rocky Mountain High School. "It was just purely like, 'We're all here so sit down and determine criteria.'"
Borman believes the aforementioned criteria fails to consider the school's context but is conclusive and crucial.
"The real only criteria is that, 'Hey, teachers are vaccinated,' and while that's an important step, I think that overlooks that the people that are going to be shoulder-to-shoulder once we return to in-person learning instruction are not the teachers," he said. "It's going to be the students and none of them are going to be vaccinated."
In regards to the two weeks of being below a 2% positivity rate, Borman believes this makes sense for smaller schools, but at a school like Rocky Mountain High School, home to 2,400 students, 2% is quite a big number.
"2% positivity rate at my particular school means that 48 students and/or staff have tested positive in the last two weeks," he explained. "To my recollection or my understanding, I don't think that we've ever, even at the height of spread in December and January, that we ever reached that number."
While he understands the emotional argument of wanting to return to school, Borman wants parents to understand that learning, whether hybrid or in-person, is going to look different while the pandemic continues.
"I wish that I could say that our district made decisions based on logic and evidence, but right now it sort of feels like it's emotional arguments as opposed to sound, logical reasoning with an understanding of the cost and benefits of either decision," he said.
West Ada issued the following statement on the possible return to in-person learning:
Ultimately, we believe that daily, in-person instruction is the best model for student success. While our teachers have continued to grow and do amazing things within the hybrid model, having the opportunity to have all students attend daily is what we believe is in the best interest of our students.
The West Ada School Board is set to meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to further discuss the return to in-person criteria.
Join 'The 208' conversation:
- Text us at (208) 321-5614
- E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Join our The 208 Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/the208KTVB/
- Follow us on Twitter: @the208KTVB or tweet #the208 and #SoIdaho
- Follow us on Instagram: @the208KTVB
- Bookmark our landing page: /the-208
- And we also turn each episode into a podcast or Podbeam
- Still reading this list? We're on YouTube, too: