The coronavirus response plans adopted by the Challis and Mackay school districts have been adjusted now that school has been in session for several weeks.
Community feedback was taken into consideration as the plans were tweaked in both districts.
A cap has been placed on the number of spectators allowed at Challis School District athletic events and people are allowed to enter and leave campus during school hours after Challis school board members amended the response plan at an unannounced, unadvertised special meeting held Oct. 6. In spite of the Messenger’s official request to be notified of all Challis school board meetings, in accord with state law, notice wasn’t provided to the Messenger. Failing to provide such notice is a violation of Idaho state statutes.
On Oct. 1, Mackay school board members chose to also allow access to school campuses and removed the day of remote learning from the school week.
The changes only affect the yellow phase of both district’s COVID-19 response plans, according to superintendents Lani Rembelski of Challis and Susan Buescher of Mackay, which the districts are currently under because of the number of active cases of coronavirus in the county.
“The cap actually allows for more spectators to attend,” Rembelski said of the change to the district’s athletic event plan. Before, only immediate household members of participants were allowed to watch a sporting event during the yellow phase. According to the plan, the cap will be determined by administrators based on physical distancing guidelines.
Over time however, as more about COVID-19 has become know, Rembelski said district staff realized they could make some adjustments. For example, Rembelski said if both sets of bleachers are pulled out in the Challis High School gym, 200 people can physically distance and still enjoy sporting events.
“Out of that 200, 50 seats are for the visiting team,” Rembelski said.
To make sure parents and family members of Challis athletes are part of the crowd, Rembelski said Athletic Director Linda Zollinger keeps a list of people the student athletes have asked be allowed to attend the games.
Rembelski has said since school began in August that any plan to fight the coronavirus would have to be a living document. When board members approved the response plan, she said at the time it would most likely change after students, staff and parents had a chance to provide feedback.
Buescher made similar comments about her district’s reopening plan when it was first approved. She said it’s OK for school board members to change plans and adapt to the shifting situation, especially if it has an immediate benefit.
“We weren’t getting the participation we thought we would,” Buescher said of the decision to remove remote learning on Tuesdays. “We want to make school as consistent as possible.”
Buescher said on the first day they tried remote learning, about 45 percent of students missed one or more classes. The next week was slightly better, she said, with 35 percent missing a class.
Buescher said being a good student at home, where siblings, chores, toys and much more can distract someone, is difficult. In order to make sure students are getting the education they need, Buescher said she and board members had to adapt and allow them back in school four days a week.
Both superintendents said the reason board members decided to allow people in and out of school buildings during the yellow phase is because the negatives outweighed the positives.
“We tried it and it didn’t serve the purpose we thought it would,” Rembelski said.
Buescher said removing the lockdown actually proved a better way to keep students and staff from spreading germs. Forcing everyone within the district to eat lunch together in classrooms, for example, kept them all in tight proximity. Buescher said such conditions promote the spread of the virus. By letting people leave campus to eat, they disperse and reduce the chances of the virus spreading throughout a building, she said.