BLACKFOOT – The Blackfoot school board met Thursday night for its scheduled meeting with a decent-sized agenda in front of them including the district’s COVID-19 response plan.
District Superintendent Brian Kress started the meeting with his updates.
Kress said the district had finished its first trimester of the school year and was candid with expressing excitement and enthusiasm for the rest of the year. The enthusiasm surrounded the fact that they have been fairly capable of preventing any major halts to the school year with COVID infections, utilizing mitigating standards and their Blackfoot Online School Solutions (BOSS) program.
Kress admitted they had a close call during the first trimester that could have caused a shutdown, but the crisis was averted. Chairman Dewane Wren asked if it was something that could be included into the response plan, to which Kress expressed that if it is something the board wants to include in the response plan, when they reach that item on the agenda they can make that decision.
Following that information, Kress went on to their plans for the professional development days that he requested from the board in a previous meeting. The professional development days are during the Thanksgiving break and will be used as a way to measure the success during the first trimester as well as exploring options to overcome some of the barriers they have faced this school year.
Some of the hurdles that have been presented include the need for those who contract or are exposed to COVID being required to quarantine and then falling behind. Others include some more niche issues, such as the claim that the district will be going strictly remote after the Thanksgiving holiday. Kress explained that they will not be changing to completely remote learning, but rather would like to stay in the classroom as much as possible, barring any requirements that would cause a forced change to distance-based learning only, whether it be massive community spread in the schools, or state mandated.
The professional development will be conducted in a different manner than originally planned, according to Kress, because of the rollback to stage two of the Rebound Idaho plan. They had originally planned on meeting in person and covering the previously mentioned points as well as the integration of Google Classrooms into the curriculum, but because of the limitation of numbers of people gathering, they will be doing it in parts, possibly with some webinars included.
The next update provided by Kress was regarding the public information meeting for the potential bond for the Blackfoot School District. The bond kickoff event was held at the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center and invited some experts around bonding and technical education to speak to the patrons.
Kress announced that they have successfully made a plan that would not raise taxes and would still provide some great upgrades and a new school in the district with a total cost of $3.76 per taxpayer per $1,000 after their $100,000 waiver on their property taxes. Kress also reminded the bonding committee that he can only be there in an information capacity and reminded the board that the bonding committee requested that one of the board members attend the meetings. None of the board members volunteered, but the invitation remains open.
Moving to the next topic, Kress asked for the continued authority for the inclement weather policy. The inclement weather policy surrounds snow days or blistering cold days. School closures due to temperature are called when the ambient air temperature is negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which may include the wind chill and snow days are called when travel by school bus is not possible in parts of the district.
The board agreed to keep that decision with the superintendent, and Kress explained that he plans to continue to involve the board chair in the decision as well as his methodology of driving around early in the morning when a closure is possible. He has done this ever since he became the superintendent in efforts to make the correct decision to close the schools for that day or not.
The final informational item provided during the meeting was on changes to gatherings and how that will impact extracurricular activities. The state notified all districts they will be allowed to use their waivers for gathering sizes through Saturday, but after that they will be limited to only essential involved persons, such as referees, scorekeepers, athletes, and some potential spectators.
The High Country Conference made the decision to allow the freshmen and junior varsity teams the opportunity to watch the varsity game from the bleachers as long as social distancing and face coverings are in use. The limitations will provide some heartache for patrons and fans, for which Kress expressed his deepest apologies, but reminded that people can watch a large amount of games through the NFHS network online. Although the limited amounts of spectators may appear overly cautious, the goal is to continue to allow the students to play sports rather than losing their entire sports seasons.
After the updates from the state level, the board moved on to the adjustments to the COVID-19 Response Plan. Kress made the recommendation that they change their High-Risk category to include in-person classes, utilizing the split schedules if the need arises, and allowing those who are home quarantining to attend classes via Zoom with the district’s new addition of adding OWL cameras to the secondary classrooms.
The adding of the OWL cameras will be completed once discussion is held with the district’s attorney regarding privacy, because they want to ensure that they are protecting the students. OWL cameras are wide angle cameras that utilize sound direction to address who is speaking so that those tied in through Zoom may see the face of the teacher or student speaking at that moment.
Idaho State University uses these cameras in each classroom for the students who attend classes remotely so they can participate in the lectures and the video follows the instructor throughout the class period. Kress expressed to the board that he is cautiously optimistic that they will be able to stay in class for the remainder of the year, but they want to be prepared for circumstances where that simply is not an option.
Kress also recommended removing parts of the response plan that do not line up with the previous levels, creating a more realistic flow chart of action. The board unanimously approved his recommendations, and moved on to the final major points of the meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Wilson updated the board on the potential sale of land. The district did not receive any closed bids during the process and planned to try at another time. However, the district has since been approached by a member of the community who wants to buy the land that was originally posted for bid.
Based on the information provided from their attorney, the district will be able to sell the land at a specified amount based on what it is worth. They do not need this area of land to provide additional space for the potential elementary school that will be built near the soccer complex because they plan on building the school closer to the road to have Walker Street as the main access way, rather than the residential streets that were originally projected. The board gave Wilson the affirmation to explore this potential sale of the land.