Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Elementary School Students to Return to School Four Days a Week
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Some students have been getting extra help at a Y Camp held at The Mint in Hailey on days they’re not in school.
   
Thursday, January 28, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Elementary school students in the Blaine County School District will be going back to school in person four days a week beginning Feb. 8.

Middle and high school students will continue to follow their present hybrid model, attending school in person two days a week for the time being.

School board trustees voted 4-1 Wednesday night to double the days elementary school students are physically in school, citing the negative effect lack of face time with teachers has had on students’ ability to read and do math problems.

Trustee Amber Larna voted against the move, saying that all students need to be in school, not just the elementary school students.

The percentage of elementary students in the Blaine County School District that meet the benchmark for reading proficiency has decreased across all grade levels from the previous year. And the percentage of students meeting the math benchmark dropped 31 percentage points for third graders and 24 percent for fifth graders

Interim Superintendent Fritz Peters called it a crisis.

“The vast majority of students are just not performing as we’re expecting on an annual business,” he said. “It’s horrible. It’s scary and hard to see that kind of loss. If we don’t get kids back into school. this could be irreparable.”

Trustee Dan Turner agreed, calling the test scores heartbreaking and noting that 50 percent fewer students are performing at grade level compared with last winter.

“The drop-off from last winter is staggering,” he said.

The Blaine County School District is the only district in the region that is not in school four or five days a week, said Peters. Even the charter and private schools in the valley have more classroom days.

Peters added that he has talked with school districts that have not had issues since moving on from hybrid model. He said that the district is already working to expand summer programs and that the district will have to intensify its work over the next few years.

“Other Idaho students getting their regular schooling, and we’re not. And, because our county happens to have this incredible rate of COVID, our students are suffering for it,” he said. “What the data says is that students need to be in school. Teachers are frustrated with online learning. When kids are home, they can’t get work done. They’re distracted. When students are not in school and they don’t have that daily connection, they miss out.”

Board President Keith Roark noted that the decision was a balancing act between the health, safety and welfare of students and teachers and the education of the students themselves.

“The kids are not performing. They’re suffering. In last 12 months our students have been in school less than 40 percent of the time,” he said.

Peters said moving ahead will upset some teachers who wished to stay in the hybrid model. But he noted that teachers who wanted vaccines have been giving ample opportunity to get vaccines.

“And with the first shot, you do have 80 percent effectiveness. Once we get that second booster shot, we’ll be even better protected.”

Roark noted that the schools have not been super spreaders. There have been only two cases of transmission in the schools—involving teachers, not students.

“The transmission is all coming from outside our building. In schools we can require masks. We can require sanitation. We’re doing a good job of mitigation in our buildings and the community is not,” he said.  “We are going to return to school and we’re going to do it without a significant increase in safety risk to our students and teachers.”

Peters noted that many middle schoolers are academically suffering, as well, in part because they don’t have the independent study skills that high school students do. He reminded the board that high school seniors would like to come back in person for the fourth quarter, which begins April 9, so they can have a little bit of normalcy as they prepare to graduate.

He also noted that many of the students have jobs so that the board should allow them at least two weeks notice if it decides to return them to four days a week.

Trustee Gretchen Gorham said she thought it was naïve to think that students would quit their jobs to return to school.

“Isn’t it our job to make sure they’re educated and getting the skills to succeed in life?” Trustee Amber Larna countered. “I would think maybe there would still be opportunities for these students to work on Saturdays and Sundays and evenings.”

 

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