Idaho Rebounds

Plans to open Challis and Stanley schools for in-person learning later this month got another round of approval from the School Board last week.

Board members approved Superintendent Lani Rembelski’s reopening plan after short discussion Thursday evening. The first day of school for students in Challis and Stanley is Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Similar to many school districts, the state health department and regional health districts, the Challis school district plan is a color-coded, four-stage effort. It’s keyed to the number of COVID-19 cases reported in a city and county, which determines whether the district advances to a higher risk category. District personnel will rely on data from Eastern Idaho Public Health to determine when to change levels, Rembelski said. Numbers will be evaluated not only countywide, but also on a community level, she said. Health district officials review numbers daily and they’d determine whether to move the schools to a different level. Maintaining active cases for at least three consecutive days is required to keep the schools at a higher level. If the district was moved to a more restrictive level, the health board continues to monitor numbers and decides how long to keep the district at that higher level, generally between 10 and 14 days.

The lowest, safest level is green. Students and teachers will be in buildings with physical distancing required. If distancing standards can’t be met, face coverings are required. Seating will be spread out in the cafeteria and classrooms, and frequent hand washing will be encouraged.

If the number of COVID-19 cases in Custer County increases to seven active cases, the district can move to the yellow level. More precautions are in place including mandatory face coverings and staggered lunch breaks.

Advancement to the orange category means a hybrid schedule. Some students will attend class in person while others learn from home. At some point the two groups trade off, so all students get some face time with teachers. People inside buildings in the orange stage must wear face coverings, physically distance and have their temperature checked before entering.

Red is the highest phase, when the district converts to full remote learning, as occurred last spring.

Rembelski shared some data from a survey of parents she had gathered about the start of school. Of the 57 completed surveys, 65 percent said they favor returning to classrooms under the district’s proposed conditions. If the district moves to the second, more restrictive, tier because of an increase in cases, the percent of parents comfortable with still sending their children to school drops a bit, to 57 percent.

Many parents asked questions about face masks, she said, including whether they might be required during P.E. classes and whether, if the district advanced to higher stages, masks would be required all day or only when students were in close proximity to one another.

Rembelski said she has asked the district’s attorney for clarification on whether the district must provide masks or if that’s a requirement of parents.

“We have money to buy face shields and maybe some masks for elementary students,” she said.

Some discussion about how numbers in Lemhi County might affect Challis occurred at Thursday’s meeting, because Lemhi County students who live in the Pahsimeroi attend school in Challis. Rembelski said she would seek clarification from health district officials about that issue.

Contact tracing takes place for all patients confirmed to have COVID-19, Rembelski said, so in the event a Pahsimeroi resident tested positive or came into contact with a person who had tested positive, the district would be informed and appropriate steps taken.

“Health district officials are paying close attention to where and what,” Trustee Kate Taylor said. “It’s fluid.”

Rembelski said the district is not required to provide online education options for families, but district personnel will work with any parents who choose that option to find an appropriate school for their children.

The district doesn’t have the infrastructure or equipment to livestream classes while some students are in the building and others are learning remotely, she said in response to a question from Taylor.

Rembelski said one family has notified her they intend to home school their children this year and another two families have asked for student records in advance of enrolling in an online school.

Board Chairman Brett Plummer said the district probably won’t know until the first day of school how many students choose not to return to the buildings.