Mackay Schools Superintendent Susan Buescher admitted it’s strange to start the upcoming fall semester on a Tuesday, but she said her teachers need an extra day to prepare due to the pandemic.

School opens in Mackay on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

“We’re going to try and do as much schooling as we can and see what happens,” Buescher said.

School board members approved a reopening plan late last month. The plan is broken into three color-coded phases. The first is green, which calls for holding classes in school buildings but taking COVID-19 precautions.

In the green phase, physical distancing standards will be enforced and face coverings will be required if 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained. Regular hand washing will be encouraged and lunch breaks will be staggered.

The next phase is yellow, at which point the district turns to a hybrid schedule. Students will spend one day a week learning from home and the other three in a classroom. That is designed to be practice for the final phase, Buescher said. If the district reaches red, that means school buildings will close and all learning will be remote.

While working on the plan, Buescher was consistently alarmed by the rising number of coronavirus cases in Idaho. She said the huge spike last month is worrisome because if the numbers don’t stop rising, it will only be a matter of time before online school returns.

What Mackay has going for it, just like the rest of Custer County, is a small population, according to Buescher. It should be easy to space out students, Buescher said, because most classes don’t have huge student populations.

Her biggest concern is fall sports. Football and volleyball were scheduled to start Aug. 10, but Buescher said that comes with challenges, including how to handle physical distancing during an indoor volleyball game.

“I’m just worried about the exposure,” Buescher said. “My first priority is the safety of the students. And the more people who come to a game, the greater the risk of exposure.”