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Viewpoint: Idaho State Board of Ed president weighs in on schools reopening

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield addressed the COVID-19 situation in schools and how the reopening is going.

BOISE, Idaho — Central District Health said this week that 50 schools within its four-county jurisdiction have reported cases of coronavirus. Some schools are even shutting down temporarily and going to remote learning only, such as North Star Charter Elementary in Eagle and Glenns Ferry Schools, among others.

During the taping of this week's Viewpoint, Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield addressed the COVID-19 situation in schools and how the reopening of schools is going statewide.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

Doug Petcash: How concerned are you about the number of schools reporting cases and some schools having to temporarily close and go back to remote learning?

Debbie Critchfield: "We're always very concerned. We're monitoring this very closely. Not in the sense of micromanaging the local decisions, but we are interested in how the education can be delivered whether it's the hybrid, completely in person or remote. As school districts are tracking their cases with their students and their employees we know that this is a constantly changing and very fluid situation."

Doug Petcash: The districts get their guidance from their local health districts when these types of situations arise. What kind of guidance does the State Board of Education or the State Department of Education give school districts for dealing with Covid cases or outbreaks?

Debbie Critchfield: "We really serve as a supportive role. As questions arise based on the placement of the categories for each of the school districts we frequently get questions asked of us, how do we do this? What are some of the ways other districts are solving it if they're in a similar category? And so again, we seek to support the local decision making based on the circumstances."

Doug Petcash: Statewide, how is school reopening going?

Debbie Critchfield: "From my perspective, it's a variety of implementations, and we see a variety of ways that students are accessing the learning. I know from district to district it looks very differently, but we're pleased to see that, fundamentally, boards have been very serious about their strategic decisions. They've been very deliberate in how they want to tackle these issues. And I think the fact that it does look different from place to place really confirms the fact that the state reopening guidelines were intended to emphasize that local governance. So as we see variations and we see differences we know that the plans are working."

Doug Petcash: Do the districts have the supplies they need in terms of masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant cleaners and plexiglass?

Debbie Critchfield: "I'm going to say yes. And the reason that I feel like I can say that is because we don't hear that request like we used to. Early spring districts were trying to scramble and buy as much as they can, and then we've had a lot of tremendous partners here in the state. Federally we've had FEMA. In the state we've had the Department of Administration, we've had the Department of Emergency Management. They have accessed other resources, and then through the state Department of Education they've been able to distribute those around the state."

Governor Brad Little also recently directed that $99 million dollars of federal coronavirus relief money be used to restore the $99 million dollars cut from school district budgets across the state.

Critchfield discusses how crucial that funding is and what it can be used for Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. on Viewpoint, as well as how the effort is going to get students the technology they need for remote learning, plus how schools are working to help students with social and emotional issues during this stressful time.

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