Idaho Falls School District 91 has officially approved its reentry plan for classes beginning on Aug. 26.
The framework approved by the school board during its meeting at Compass Academy on Wednesday night was largely identical to the draft that was initially posted last week. While the district expects to have students return to in-person classes to start the year, details including the plans for quarantining people exposed to the coronavirus or specific mask requirements at schools won’t be in place until the next school board meeting on Aug. 12.
“There are, admittedly, a number of things that are not specifically addressed in the format of this plan,” Superintendent George Boland said. “That is deliberate because the pace at which new information comes out means there will be a lot of changes between now and Aug. 26.”
The plan taken by District 91 includes a three-tiered approach to school operations, coded as “green: New Normal Operations,” “yellow: Learning With Caution,” and “red: Learn At Home & Stay Safe.” Students will shift between attending school with social distancing and other precautions in place, attending two days a week with Fridays set aside to help teachers prepare or do individualized lessons, or learning entirely online as the level of risk increases.
The shifts between those methods of learning will depend on the caseload in Bonneville County, as determined by Eastern Idaho Public Health officials, and outbreaks that happen in individual schools. The yellow reductions will take hold after the county has reported three days in a row with more than 120 active cases of the virus. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 66 active cases being monitored in Bonneville County by Eastern Idaho Public Health.
Angela Gilman, president of the Idaho Falls Education Association, spoke to the school board early in the meeting to share the concerns of District 91 teachers. She said the need to prepare for lessons to take place online and in-person, potentially at the same time as individual students are kept home, is a major concern.
“When does the teacher go to assist those kids doing online work when they’re with students at school all day? It’s like a double workload, and many people are nervous about that,” Gilman said.
Chad Judy, a speech and language pathologist who works with students from District 91, spoke during the public comment section and shared his concern that the district’s plan was not proactive enough in the measures that would reduce the risk of future cases.
“The way you keep the county from getting up to the yellow and red restrictions is that everyone wears masks all the time. Taking that action at lower risk levels will prevent future cases,” Judy said.
District 91 will require students to wear masks on buses, as Boland said it would be impossible to socially distance the kids. Students who need to take the bus will be asked to bring their own masks but the district plans to have a supply available for anyone who forgets to bring one.
The district also plans to provide one Chromebook for every student in the district at the beginning of the year. Even if all students are attending classes during the fall, more work will be provided online to get kids and families used to navigating the district website.
Boland said the district will hold staff development days on Aug. 18 and 19 to prepare teachers for the online expectations and requirements. He said the district is also working with the Idaho Digital Learning Academy to develop an online K-12 school for families who want to avoid in-person classes or help teach students temporarily kept home during a quarantine.
“Our intent is for any parent who wants their child to have online lessons will have an avenue available to pursue that,” Boland said.
During Wednesday night’s meeting, the school board also approved a simplified version of the attendance policy to make it easier for parents to keep their kids home and reviewed construction bids for the Skyline High School track and West Side Stadium.