Bonneville Joint School District 93 has approved the initial draft of its four-phase fall reentry plan for the upcoming school year.
The plan was developed over the last weeks by district officials and school principals and approved by Eastern Idaho Public Health officials. The school board voted on Monday night to tentatively accept the plan as it is sent out for feedback from teachers and parents, though Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said there was a limited amount that can change because so many details are tied to the recommendations of public health officials.
“It’s not that I’m saying it is this plan or nothing else, but there is a responsibility we have that we’ll have to balance,” Woolstenhulme said.
The broadest phase of reentry would see all students attending school in-person at least four days a week beginning the week of August 31. Middle and high schoolers would have Mondays off to give teachers more time to prepare lessons and make sure material is available online. At the elementary level, the second and fourth Mondays of each month would serve the same purpose.
The move into the restrictions of the other three phases will be based on the local impact of the coronavirus, as determined by Eastern Idaho Public Health.
— Phase 2 will be considered once Bonneville County has had 120 confirmed cases of the virus in a 30-day span. Students will attend school two days a week, either on Tuesday and Wednesday or on Thursday and Friday, and take online classes the other two days. Seats on buses and in classrooms will be adjusted to allow for additional social distancing.
— Phase 3 is triggered when Bonneville County has more than 210 confirmed cases of the virus in a 30-day span. Students will be grouped by their last name and attend school in person just one day a week.
— Phase 4, the most restrictive, will happen if hospitals in Bonneville County approach their max capacity for coronavirus patients. All classes will be moved online, though with slightly more exceptions than when schools closed in the spring. Teachers will be expected to offer live video classes for at least 45 minutes a day.
Woolstenhulme said it was possible the school year would be forced to start in a limited phase because the plan was tied to the virus situation. Bonneville County currently has 59 active cases of the virus, including 10 new cases that were announced on Monday afternoon.
All the phases with in-person classes will involve asking parents to keep their kids home if they are sick and recommend students have masks and water bottles with them. Teachers who have underlying health concerns will be given permission to require masks in their classrooms, and further mask requirements could be put in place at the request of public health officials.
“When you get the feedback from the teachers, make sure they have the time they need to develop face-to-face learning and online learning. It’s a big job and a lot to ask of them,” board member Charles Dance said.
In the event a student or teacher has a confirmed case of the virus, the school would be closed for 72 hours for a deep cleaning and anyone who had prolonged exposure to that person in the days before would have to quarantine for two weeks. Woolstenhulme estimated that with the other precautions in place, that would mean between nine and 20 students temporarily kept home in elementary schools and up to 50 students for secondary schools for each confirmed infection.
Sports and activities run the Idaho High School Activities Association would go ahead based on statewide guidance. All other clubs and events in the district would be suspended temporarily, until the teachers and organizers could establish a plan to conduct them with virus precautions in place.
“It seems like there’s lots of people who have gone to bars and clubs and parties and come home sick or died from it, so I’m just not excited about having school dances this fall,” Woolstenhulme said.
Thunder Ridge High School Principal Douglas McLaren shared the uncertainty over how athletics and activities would work in the fall. He was optimistic that the Mondays of planning and the week of preparation before the school year started in late August would be enough to help teachers prepare for the new situation.
“How things look then will govern what that week looks like, if we’re planning for a lot of students being out for a few weeks or having things be mostly back to normal,” McLaren said.