ELK CITY – The Mountain View School District 244 year started with both excitement and trepidation, superintendent Todd Fiske told the board of trustees at the Sept. 21 meeting held at Elk City School.
“Everyone has COVID concerns, and, as you can imagine, it is nearly impossible to enforce social distancing in every situation,” he said. Masks have been encouraged, but not enforced.
Fiske added it has been “very difficult” to find suitable replacements for the 31 resignations within the district.
“I have difficulty with the professionalism of resigning Wednesday, effective Friday, when the school year has started,” he shook his head. “It is a big deal. We’re trying to minimize the impact of this on our kids.”
He referred to the staffing issues as a “shell game” in order to cover classes as necessary.
“It takes a lot of time and wrangling ,and there are major holes in the district right now,” he emphasized. “It’s hard to move forward and meet all the needs.”
Aside from requiring a variety of teaching and paraprofessional positions, the district is having an arduous time hiring bus drivers and substitute teachers.
“It’s really difficult for a substitute to want to come in if someone has been ill,” Fiske said. “There’s been a big jump in COVID cases in Idaho County; our district is not immune.”
Fiske said he has received a number of calls from patrons that range from imploring him, “do not close the schools under any circumstances,” to “what are you doing keeping the schools open? You are going to kill all of Grangeville.”
He said he continues to monitor the situation with the guidance of Idaho Public Health as the school year moves forward.
“One particular case is not a trigger for us either way,” he explained. He said the decisions of a number of other districts affect MVSD, including extracurricular and scheduling decisions, including Lapwai, Orofino, Genesee and Moscow.
Fiske said an A-B attendance schedule is mostly ready, if needed, though “it has been a challenge to get that schedule to coincide with sibling and busing schedules,” he said, adding that preparations are ongoing.
When he brought up the discussion of mask wearing, trustee Casey Smith said, “Why? They do not work.”
“With all due respect, I’m going to side with science – they have been proven to help,” mitigate the spread of germs and viruses, trustee Pam Reidlen said.
Fiske reminded of a parental survey prior to the start of school where a large number of parents objected to mask wearing.
“If it comes to mandatory masks,” in order to keep school doors open, Reidlen said. “parents have the option of sending their kids to school in masks or staying home.”
Fiske said he feels the discussions surrounding these issues are important.
“It’s hard to navigate the middle – it’s a really tough situation,” he said.
Fiske said COVID support funds are “big,” an infusion two of that money would bring about another $400,000 to the district.
“We’re a bit hamstrung on what the funds can purchase, as they need to be specifically COVID-related, but it’s something the board needs to think about,” he said.
Fiske said he wanted to plant a seed with the board regarding using that money to give back to the staff as the COVID challenges have been extreme with distance learning, in-person learning, home packets and hybrid learning continue.
“I want to interject that I agree,” Reidlen offered. “This would go a long way toward improving morale, and the teachers and staff have really worked their butts off.”