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Viewpoint: What will school in Idaho look like in the fall?

SBOE President Debbie Critchfield says students and teachers should be back in school buildings this fall, but "schools are preparing for every contingency."

BOISE, Idaho — As this strange and challenging school year comes to a close, the question now becomes, what will school look like in the fall?

It's a question that education leaders are working to answer now.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, teachers and students had to quickly pivot to teaching and learning remotely from home.

In an interview for Viewpoint, Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said the goal for the fall is to have the kids and teachers back in their schools.

But the virus will still be a big concern, so school will inevitably look different when classes resume.

An added wrinkle for school districts is financial uncertainty after Gov. Brad Little ordered a 5% budget holdback for the 2020-21 school year. 

So in addition to coming up with a plan for how to safely and effectively teach students, administrators are having to work out where to make up for that lost funding.

Below is an excerpt from Doug Petcash's interview with Critchfield. You can watch the full interview on Viewpoint this Saturday, May 23, at 10 a.m. and Sunday at 6:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m. and 11 p.m.

RELATED: Here's what Idaho high school, college seniors need to know about 2020 'graduation'

Debbie Critchfield: Any school district superintendent, board trustee that I talk to that is their goal. That we move forward with some type of physical nature in a brick and mortar setting, but we also know that schools are preparing for every contingency. That that is very important as well that we plan and we hope for where we'd like to be but we make sure that we've got plans, back-up plans.

Doug Petcash: Will there be social distancing involved?

Debbie Critchfield: So long as that is a protocol in the state. I haven't heard of any school that part of their plan doesn't include that. And there are aspects of school operations that are easier to accomplish, recess and lunch and instruction. Some of those things are easily figured out. Bussing is another situation. And so every school district that I have talked to and has visited with other regions they're all looking at some aspect of physical distancing with anything that they deliver to their students.

Doug Petcash: Extra cleaning as well?

Debbie Critchfield: Absolutely! And a part of that also includes discussions about PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) or masks or thermometers and some of these other topics that we've heard about nationally. What that looks like logistically in our state as far as access and budgetary support for those types of things have yet to be determined.

Doug Petcash: I've seen reports that school in other states are considering things such as students going to school in shifts so there aren't so many in the building at one time and having a mix of in-class and online work. Are you considering recommending anything like that?

Debbie Critchfield: As a board of education we haven't gotten detailed in those types of recommendations. Having said that, we definitely have heard from other districts and around the state that that is one of their contingencies. How can we make sure that all of the students have some type of brick and mortar experience, if social distancing or physical distancing is in place, what do the shifts look like, making sure that smaller classrooms are in medium sized rooms and looking at it from that perspective.

Doug Petcash: So, what about parents who aren't comfortable sending their kids back to school? How will they be handled and provided for?

Debbie Critchfield: One of the requests that our board is asking school districts is to have some type of absenteeism policy in place for that very thing. Ultimately parents have all of the rights pertaining to their children just like they do in any other circumstance or any other year. So long as schools are addressing that and figuring out what that looks like so that families aren't penalized, and I know that a lot of districts are considering that for faculty that may have chronic illness or feel as though they're more at risk. So these are some of those aspects that are yet to be completely settled.

Doug Petcash: What do you think school is going to look like at our colleges and universities in the fall?

Debbie Critchfield: What our board is hearing from the college presidents in the state is some type of blended model. Again, the goal similar to K-12 is to provide an on campus experience for students recognizing the challenges that may happen and circumstances that may present themselves in the fall. As our presidents work with their teams they want to make sure that should things change as they try to get students back to campus that they're able to transition quickly and easily and have all of their courses be able to be delivered virtually.

Doug Petcash: As far as being on campus for those courses, it seems like there's a little more wiggle room with college students where you could offer classes with more opportunities and different times and be able to have smaller numbers of students in class. Is that one idea out there?

Debbie Critchfield: Absolutely. And again utilizing the space as you mentioned on our college campuses. They have an ability to scale up easier than a K-12 setting. So you know you've got a large auditorium or a ballroom for example that may be able to have the medium sized class and you look to provide that physical distancing and that spacing. 16:55 Something that we're hearing about is dividing up classes so maybe students, you have one group of students that's on campus in that class on a Monday and another on a Wednesday. And again it's that virtual blended model of partly on campus and partly online."

Doug Petcash: And a big part of the college experience is sports. Do you think sports should or will happen starting in the fall?

Debbie Critchfield: This is another unanswered question or at least not settled. I'll use Boise State as an example. I know that they've been in close contact clearly with the NCAA and with the Mountain West. The goal is to be able to have fans come back into the stadiums and participate in those athletic events, but that is one of those big unknowns. how to accomplish that.

RELATED: Viewpoint: 'A new normal:' What does the coronavirus future look like in Idaho? Will life get back to the way it was before?

RELATED: Viewpoint: State Board of Education president discusses the massive impact of the coronavirus on Idaho public schools

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