Saturday, September 19, 2020
Blaine Schools Trustee Explains How the Board Makes Decisions About School, Athletics
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Determining what to about Wolverine football, soccer and other athletic programs was a big consideration in Blaine County Schools’ back to school plan.
   
Monday, September 7, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County Schools will reopen for in-person learning Tuesday, nearly six months after shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Students will return to a brave new world that includes plexiglass dividers between desks and classrooms with half the students they would normally have. The Blaine County Recreation District and the Wood River YMCA are filling the gap for the days students are not in classroom with programs at the HUB on the Community Campus, the Y in Ketchum and The Mint in Hailey.

“The YMCA has done an incredible job of ramping up an enrichment program to help fill the childcare gap that starting in the hybrid plan creates for parents. Jason Shearer is a superhero for putting it all together so fast with kids’ greatest needs in mind,” said Lara Stone, vice chair of the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees. “And the owners of The Mint building—Sandor Szombathy and his partner—have worked out a very kind deal with the Y to allow them to use that space.”

Marilyn Yohenny Giron Gomez, who will be a junior this year, said she wished school could be in-person five days a week as she had too many distractions when she tried to do her studies online.

Tyler Peterson, who will be a senior, said he also would like to have as much in-person learning as possible.

“It’s going to be interesting this year. I hope we don’t have to go back full time online,” said Peterson, who hopes to study computer science and forestry in college. “I would love to be in-person five days a week because I learn better when I’m hands on. but I don’t think that’s practical.”

Tawni Baker said her sons—Eli and Corey Trevino--are happy to go back.

“No one wants kids to go 100 percent online,” she said. “And Eli especially wants to play football. A lot depends on who they play so it’s hard to plan. He’s a team player but he wants to play so much.”

Some parents have pulled their children out of BCSD schools, enrolling them instead in Syringa Mountain School, which started with in-person classes five day a week on Monday, Aug. 31. Hemingway STEAM School has gained some new students whose families moved to the Wood River Valley because of the COVID pandemic. School authorities won’t have a firm count on enrollment until after the first week of school, but it appears the school will net fewer than two dozen new students as other students left to join the dual immersion program at Alturas or to be homeschooled.

Sage School reopens on Tuesday with in-person classes four days a week. Sun Valley Community School opened on Aug. 31 with five days of in-person classes.

BCSD is using the Global Health Institute rating system with some help from St. Luke’s dashboard and imput from St. Luke’s doctors to make decisions regarding whether schooling should be in-person, completely online or a hybrid of the two.

One of the biggest challenges was figuring out what to do about sports.

Knowing that sports helps keep students healthy and engaged, Activities and Athletic Director Kevin Stilling is trying to provide athletic opportunities for students while minimizing risks to the athletes. Minimizing risk to athletes also minimizes the risks to their families, other students, district staff and the rest of the community.

Stilling had Dr. Frank Batcha and other doctors from St. Luke's create safety guidelines for the district, including how to structure practices to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission between athletes. But competing with other schools is more problematic. 

The high school cancelled a football game with Canyon Ridge in Twin Falls two weeks ago because of the spread of coronavirus in that community made it too risky.

“Rather than having an intramural-only season, we have decided to do our best to assess risk and minimize it,” said Stone. “Over the summer, there was only one source for COVID-19 data by county and that was from the Global Health Initiative (GHI). Without county-level data, we would have had to use statewide data, which would have precluded competition entirely. On August 13, the Idaho South Central Public Health District (SCPHD) began publishing their own ratings.” 

The school district’s top priority is to get all of its students back in school full time as soon as possible. But to do that we need to keep the level of infection in our community low, said Stone.

“Many school districts in the state and across the country have started up only to shut down, often because of exposure due to school sports. We want to avoid that as much as possible,” she added.

Stone said the School Board has continued using GHI ratings to make decisions about opening school and athletic competition for the following reasons:

  1. SCIENCE - GHI's metrics were developed by physicians and scientists in the fields of immunology, virology, and epidemiology.  Combined resources include Global Health Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, CovidActNow, Covid-Local, and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP).  In contrast, local health districts have a board of health appointed by county commissioners within that region, so the ratings can be impacted by local politics and outside pressures.
  2. TIMING - GHI's ratings are based on a 7-day rolling average and are updated daily, with a 24-hour delay built in to assure the stability of the data. In contrast, the local public health districts only reassess their risk/color ratings every 2 weeks and their data is based on a 14-day rolling average. (The SCPHD data is published by 5 pm on Thursdays and is based on the prior two weeks from Sunday to two weeks later Saturday.  This means there is an additional five-day lag in data publication (e.g. 8-27-20 numbers represent, 8-9 to 8-22 period). This 19-day gap can hide a big surge in infection that can be avoided by using the GHI ratings. Custer County is an example of this. The East Idaho Public Health District met last Thursday and rated them Green. The next day that county entered Orange at 16.6, and by Saturday their numbers had increased to 34, enough to rate them Red by all rating systems. But, because their public health district only meets weekly, they will remain in Green until their next meeting at the end of this week. Cases now indicate severe community spread, as Custer is at 43 per 100K today, the third worst county in the state.
  3. MITIGATION vs SUPPRESSION - SCPHD's ratings set a lower bar. They aim for mitigation, keeping the size of current outbreaks from growing, in order to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. In contrast, GHI's ratings aim for suppression--greatly reducing new infections and keeping them low enough to safely open public life again. Following GHI ratings significantly increases the chances we can go back to school full time sooner without increasing the number of people put at risk or having to suddenly switch to all remote learning due to an outbreak.

    Rating system comparison (numbers represent new daily cases per 100,000 people):

    GHI - Suppression                                         SCPHD - Mitigation only

    Daily updates                                                 Updates every 2 weeks

    7-day rolling average                                     14-day rolling average

              <  1                              Green                         < 10

              < 10                             Yellow                         < 25

              < 25                             Orange                       < 50

                25+                            Red                                50+

  4. EXPERIENCE - Local public health districts in Idaho have only been rating county risk levels for two weeks but GHI has been publishing data since July 1. GHI uses data obtained from the CDC, national, state, and local health departments.
  5. MIXED DATA - SCPHD uses the district wide case-positivity rate (they do not have this data at the county level).  Because Blaine County has a much lower positivity rate right now, it conceals the risk in other counties in our public health district. 
  6. PERTINENT DATA - SCPHD places the most weight in terms of color rating on Hospital Capacity, which is the ability to treat all incoming patients, not just COVID-19 positive patients. This figure will only change when EVERY other metric is at a critical level. Because it is classified as “Green” across all counties, it reduces the color ratings of counties with other, more pertinent, transmission risks. 

 

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