Thursday, August 13, 2020
Blaine Schools Eye Ways to Reopen
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Teachers at Alturas Elementary organized a drive-by parade last May to show students how much they missed them.
   
Friday, July 10, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that he intends for Idaho’s K-12 school systems to offer in-person classes this fall.

The Blaine County School District was already headed in that direction with three plans—one of which involves kids in school.

“If we went back to school now, we would be ‘reunited’ because there’s not much COVID in the community,” said Board Trustee Lara Stone. “Whether we’re able to do that in August will depend on how much COVID there is in the community at that time.”

Little said Thursday during a press conference that it was “imperative” that students return to their classrooms, as remote or online learning is not enough to guarantee Idaho kids a good education.

“You can never replace the value and impact of in-person interaction with a professional and educated teacher,” he said.

His comments followed President Donald Trump’s assertation on Wednesday that he might cut off federal funds to U.S. schools that did not open.

The Blaine County School District has developed three plans as it prepares for the reopening of school on Aug. 17. It’s expected that all three plans might be implemented at different times during the school year as the number of coronavirus cases surge or wane.

“Our plans are drafts and they’re constantly changing and they will probably change through the school year,” said Stone.

Each school district must submit its plans to the South Central Public Health District. And, said Director Melody Bowyer, “flexibility is the key.”

“I don’t think it’s wrong to plan and hope we can get kids back to school,” added Dr. Terry O’Connor, an emergency physician in the Wood River Valley. “It’s not going to be a zero-risk activity, but there are good guidelines about how to do it.”

  • Plan A, or what Stone calls “a fully reunited plan,” calls for all students to attend school with face coverings, hand washing and social distancing in place. Student contact with those outside their classroom will be limited with such measures as students eating lunches in their classroom rather than together as a school in the cafeteria.

    Music and art teachers would go to each classroom, rather than having the students go to them.

  • Plan B, or a socially distanced plan, calls for half of the students attending school at one time and half learning from home. There would be staggered school starts and end times to provide more space on the bus.

    Kindergarten to third-grade students would attend four days a week because they need more in-person contact for optimal learning. Students in grades four through 12 would attend school in person two days a week and spend the remainder of the week learning from home.

  • Plan C reverts to distance learning with all students learning from home each day.

“We all want kids back in school and right now I feel good about it because people in the community are wearing masks and doing what they need to do to keep one another safe,” said Stone. “If mask wearing is what it takes for students to be in school, I think they will be fine with it. The evidence right now is that masks and social distance is the best thing we can do to keep one another safe.”

Any family who is concerned about sending their children back to school can register for online-only learning through the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance. The Alliance plans to start an elementary learning this year in response to COVID, said Stone.

The BCSD is replacing large tables around which kindergarteners sat with individual desks to enable physician distancing. Something like that can cost as much as $10,000 a classroom.

And the district is desperately trying to hire more school bus drivers to accommodate staggered starts.

Stone said the trustees have not recently discussed such things as temperature scans in recent weeks. She noted studies that show that 30 percent of those admitted to hospitals did not have fevers.

“I’m encouraged that the research I’ve seen indicates that students are less likely to transmit the virus to adults as adults are to other adults,” she added.

SEARCH FOR NEW SUPERINTENDENT STARTS

The Blaine County School District has hired the firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to conduct the search for a new superintendent to replace GwenCarol Holmes, who recently announced her intent to step down.

The Schaumburg, Ill., firm specializes in education leadership. And it has placed people in other resort towns, such as Aspen, Park City and Bend, Ore.

“The head of the company has been a teacher and a superintendent. They’re big on community imput. It’s very exciting to be working on so much positive change,” said Trustee Lara Stone.

The firm has already started interviewing board members about what they’re looking for. It will also interview a handful of community members, conduct focus groups and hold four public community forums to gauge what the community wants in a superintendent.

COMMUNICATIONS FIRM HIRED

The Blaine County School District also has eliminated its position of communications director and hired Donovan Group School Communications to handle its messaging. The move will save money, as the yearly contract costs $36,000 a year versus the approximate $150,000 the school district was paying.

The firm, which was founded in 2004 in Milwaukee, Wis., works exclusively with public schools. It helps with surveys, referendum assistance, video services, crisis communication and media relations.

The school district will provide the messaging—Donovan will provide the graphic design and social media.

“They have all kinds of ideas about best practices because they’ve worked in so many places, so I think there are things we can learn from them,” said Trustee Lara Stone.

 

 

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