New rules stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic may be a little strange, they’re worth it for an in-person education, according to students and staffers at Stanley School.

After the pandemic forced all Idaho schools to switch to remote learning last spring, school officials were given more leeway this fall about how to conduct classes. The key factor in how much leeway is the number of coronavirus cases in their area. Schools in areas with more people that were hit hard by the virus, like Boise, had to return this fall to remote learning, while schools in less-populated districts, like Stanley, were given permission to fully reopen.

And, some parents around Idaho have chosen to take advantage of those in-person options in Stanley. The school’s enrollment this fall — 19 — almost double the nine students there last spring because families with homes in more than one community have chosen to stay in Stanley this fall so their children can be in a classroom.

Kelton Hall, a sixth-grader, who attended school in Boise last year, is happy to be in Stanley this year.

“There’s way more to do here than there,” Hall said. Being back in a classroom, even with the increased physical distancing and sanitation rules, is the best thing, he said. While living in Boise, he said he struggled with online learning and the tight restrictions the city was placed under due to coronavirus.

“I’m always happy to have more students, but with COVID-19 it means we have more to juggle this year,” teacher Amanda Brady said. Except for second grade, Brady said there is a student in each grade level this year.

“I think it’s our location that’s playing in our favor,” Brady said of the higher enrollment. Because the Stanley School is in a remote area and has such a small student body, it appeals to parents who own property in the area and put a priority on in-person education.

Stanley Paraprofessional Amanda Anderson, or “Ms. A” to the kindergartners and first-graders, said the staff was “so excited to have more students.” However, she said it has been challenging to get the students to pay attention to the new rules.

“Kai, you have to put you mask on,” Anderson reminded kindergartner Kai Christiansen when he got up to leave his desk to get an eraser. As the young boy went back to his desk for his mask, he had to maneuver around a plastic barrier that separated his desk from Finley Coffelt, the only other kindergartner.

Teacher Lisa Muscavage said the increased physical distancing between students has been the biggest change this year. Combine that with the bump in enrollment, and Muscavage said school staff realized early on they were going to need more space.

“We’re using the portable for the first time since, oh let’s be safe, and say since the early 2000s,” Muscavage said between lecturing the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders on math in the portable classroom building. The portable is a small building built next to the Stanley School that has mostly been used for storage recently.

Having to clean out the portable and use it for teaching again has been in line with the challenges the school staff has faced this year, Brady said. Staff across the entire district has had to adapt to unexpected challenges, she said.

Brady feels lucky to teach in Stanley. The perks of working in a small community during a pandemic, Brady said, aren’t limited to a reduced chance of the virus spreading.

“The parents were so helpful,” Brady said. “Early on when it was really hard to get sanitation things, they all pitched in and helped supply the school.”

As he took a break from his math lesson, Hall said the tight community is what attracted his family to the small town. After visiting his family’s cabin near Stanley for about four years, watching the other students play and help each other out made Hall glad his parents decided to make the move.

Next to Hall, working on his algebra 1 assignment, eighth-grader Grady Klingler reflected on being back in a classroom.

“I’m happy to be back in person,” he said, with emphasis on “in person.” It was rough learning via computer in Stanley, Klingler remembered. Internet service is spotty in the small mountain town, and Klingler said it’s hard to ask a teacher a question while having to wait for the video feed to buffer.

The sacrifices to be back in school are small, Klingler said. If having to learn with a barrier around his desk and a cover on his face means he gets to show up for class, then Klingler said he’s ready.

“I really don’t care about the mask thing,” Klinger said. “I just kind of got into it at the beginning. It was pretty easy.”