State Education Board Joins Governor Brad Little In Pushing For Idaho Schools To Reopen


With the first day of school less than six weeks away, the State Board of Education on Thursday unanimously adopted school reopening guidelines that set expectations for students to return to school in the fall.

Gov. Brad Little and the State Board of Education’s Public School Reopening Committee developed the plan over the past four weeks, saying they wanted to provide nonbinding guidance for local school officials who are responsible for developing local reopening plans.

The plan is incomplete in several ways.

  • It does not address civil liability issues surrounding the coronavirus, which school administrators have said is a major obstacle to returning to school for in-person instruction.
  • It does not address how school officials should count attendance, which drives funding in Idaho.
  • It does not address sports, another major obstacle to reopening, other than deferring to the Idaho High School Activities Association for guidance on sports and practice.
  • And it is not intended to provide legal advice.

From the outset, the intention — or at least the desire — is clear.

Little attached a letter to the plan saying “I expect all our school buildings to safely reopen in the fall for in-person instruction.”

Gov. Brad Little adjusts his mask during a July 9 press conference at the Statehouse.

Gov. Brad Little adjusts his mask during a July 9 press conference at the Statehouse. CREDIT: Clark Corbin / Idaho Education News

The introduction to the plan says “It is expected students will return to school buildings in the fall.”

But once you get into the plan itself, the message isn’t clear cut.

The plan creates three categories of guidelines for schools based on risk and transmission of the virus. Under two of the three possible scenarios the learning model and recommended response are for either reduced or staggered use of school buildings, or extended school closures.

Here’s the guidance from the plan:

  • Category 1, no community transmission: Traditional learning model, with school buildings open.
  • Category 2, minimal to moderate transmission: Hybrid/blended learning model with limited or staggered use of school buildings, targeted closures or short-term to mid-term closures ranging from one to six weeks.
  • Category 3, substantial community transmission: Full distance/remote learning with school buildings closed for extended periods of time longer than six weeks.

Under the plan, local health districts would identify the category of transmission and risk.

The plan includes preventative measures school leaders could take, guidance on testing and contract tracing and guidance for masks and face coverings.

Under the plan, masks or face coverings are recommended in Category 1 but not required. Under Category 2, masks or cloth face coverings are recommended for students, staff and visitors. Schools should also provide masks for staff and provide them for others who do not have one but wish to wear one.

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said earlier this week schools should adhere to any local mask orders, such as those in McCall, Boise, Hailey and other communities.

The plan came together over the past few weeks. Little announced the formation of the reopening committee June 17, and charged the members with coming up guidance intended to help local school officials develop their own reopening plans. The committee included about 24 members, with representation from school administrators, State Board members, legislators and Central District Health program manager Gina Pannell.

Critchfield headed up the reopening committee and issued a self-imposed June 30 deadline to put a draft of guidance together. She and Little’s education adviser Greg Wilson said they were looking for something in the ballpark of a 10-page document.

Little is expected to discuss the plan in more detail during a noon press conference.

A draft of the plan is available on the State Board’s website. Scroll down two Tab 2, Attachment 1 to read it.

Originally posted on on July 9, 2020

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