Public schools from across the state are in various forms of flux as they navigate COVID-19 and what it means for school re-openings.
The Idaho State Board of Education heard from public school superintendents from throughout Idaho and the presidents of all eight public higher education institutions about reopening plans this fall during a Zoom meeting Aug. 17.
Across the board, K-12 chiefs said they are wrestling with everything from maintaining staffing levels – especially substitute teachers and bus drivers -- managing safety and hygiene practices for all staff and grades, expectations and realities of extracurricular activities, the need for adequate electronic devices and Internet access for online learning, and differences opinion within communities on issues such as the wearing masks.
Wendy Moore, Genesee superintendent and Region 2 (which includes most Idaho and Lewis county schools) president, agreed that “people are very passionate about what they think,” whether it be delaying or opening schools or wearing or not wearing masks.
She announced that communities within the region feel differently about which tack is best for its staff and students.
“Some areas, such as Moscow, have a culture that accepts mask wearing,” she explained. Moscow schools have also made the decision to only have intramural sports this school year.
She said it is difficult to make plans when there is not consistency for sports and activities within the region.
“We have also had trouble with teachers in the region leaving at the last minute, and that’ a big concern,” Moore said. “That, coupled with not knowing how many students will choose to homeschool or take school online is stressful.”
Several region representatives said they have delayed school openings – mainly until summer tourists have left town and a safe time has passed. Average length of delay on openings across the state is eight days.
Rob Saur, Homedale superintendent and Region 3 president, which includes Riggins, said 13 of 30 of is region’s schools have delayed school opening.
“Most schools have decided upon a blended or hybrid type of learning,” between in person and online, he said.
He reiterated a lack of substitutes, bus drivers and Internet connectivity are worrisome.
The presidents of Idaho’s higher education institutions discussed protocols and safety procedures in place at the colleges and universities including COVID-19 testing, mandated face coverings and social distancing requirements. Classrooms and living quarters, as well as other spaces, have all been refigured to allow for physical distancing as well as quarantining, if necessary.
At the University of Idaho, approximately 25 percent of classes will occur in-person; 30 percent will be online; 45 percent will be hybrid. The U of I plans to conduct classes fully online after the Thanksgiving break which will allow for no students on campus for six-plus weeks to allow for cleaning and sanitizing. All students are being tested for coronavirus when they arrive on campus, with about 50 students already testing positive and being quarantined. Fall enrollment is currently down just more than 4 percent compared to last fall.
Lewis-Clark State College will offer approximately 70 percent of its courses in-person or hybrid; 30 percent of classes will occur online; 100 percent of courses will have an online component. LCSC plans to conduct classes fully online after the Thanksgiving break, as well. LCSC’s fall enrollment is currently down 6 to 7 percent compared to last fall.