BLACKFOOT – The Blackfoot school board held a special meeting Thursday night in efforts to make a final decision regarding their return to the classroom. The plan that was introduced just two weeks ago has undergone some alterations, revamps, and tests to get to where it was by the end of the meeting.
Blackfoot School District Superintendent Brian Kress had already presented the different options of the plan at the previous meeting and wanted to share with the board the feedback he received from parents and patrons of the district during a listening session held after the meeting.
The listening session proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle, he said, creating a dialogue about questions and concerns members of the community have. One of the most important decisions to be made was about how to safely socially distance. However, with some time passing and some other agencies making plans, it made it a little easier to follow installed guidelines from Southeastern Idaho Public Health when it came to students in the classroom.
The information presented by SIPH states that different actions and group sizes will take place when we reach the moderate stage completely. Currently, Bingham County continues to check the number of active cases metric for being at moderate risk, but because of the resiliency of the people and the work of healthcare workers, local medical facilities are not being overwhelmed, Kress said.
The policy put forth by the reopening plan will cut the number of students in the building by 50 percent and will require students to maintain social distancing or wear a mask when on the school bus or when socially distancing is not possible. The board posed questions about different options to increase the distance when possible, and what kind of schedule can be utilized to limit contact.
In the original introduction of the proposed plan, Kress had suggested doing an A and B schedule where they would be week to week. The group of students in the A group would attend class the first week and then be home the second week. The students in the B group would be in class the second week and spend the first week doing classes online.
Adding this schedule to the already shortened four-day school week, lowering the potential of contact spreading is considerably higher according to the science thus far, Kress said. One patron, a nurse, according to Kress, made a comment about the four-day week allowing 72 hours to decrease the potential of contact transmission. Furthermore, doing the A and B weekly schedules will aid in preventing the potential spread of coronavirus.
“I am going to say it. When ... when we have a confirmed case in one of our schools, we have to be prepared,” Kress stated. He explained that they will have different actions in place, and that is one of the main reasons why they wanted a strong working online system in place before the new school year. Moreover, the school will be disinfected daily with a fogger unit that will kill nearly all contact trace pathogens. They will also be putting books in quarantine after they have been returned by a student for a minimum of 72 hours before the library will put them back out on the shelf.
Drinking fountains with contactless water bottle filling options will be installed in different locations at the schools, and students are recommended to bring water bottles to school this year. They recognize that not all students will have water bottles, but they want to limit the need for traditional water fountains at this time. They have plans in place for those water fountains, and the custodial staff has them, as well as bathrooms, door handles and knobs, and other continually touched surfaces as primary points of attention for cleaning. The members of the board agreed that these measures are necessary and supported Kress in finding a solution.
The board voted in favor of the reopening plan with the contingency of having a completed plan for recess and playground equipment. Kress explained that he is glad they thought of needing that and is happy to come up with a working plan on it.
The board then moved on to the second major item, the Blackfoot Online School Solution (BOSS). The BOSS program employs Blackfoot school teachers to teach the online programs in six-week blocks. Each of the blocks are completely synchronous and the program already has 250 students signed up for it, meaning that the district will not have to worry about cutbacks or layoffs.
Because of this online program, the school will be able to retain all of the staff despite students doing classes online. The program will be connected to what the students sitting in the classroom will be doing as well, allowing them to be at the same pace as their classmates.
The board appreciated the work put forth by Kress and Assistant Superintendent Ryan Wilson on the BOSS program and the reopening plan. Wilson explained that they have already contacted their internet service provider about extending their wireless internet capabilities. Trustee Mary Jo Marlow asked about empty classrooms and the possibility of utilizing those for the online classes for those who do not have internet. Kress liked the idea and said he will find out what classrooms are not being utilized during the school year.
When the discussion was over, the board voted unanimously in favor of the BOSS program as well. Students will need to be registered for BOSS just like they are for brick and mortar classes. For more information, the district has a video about the program online on its Facebook page.