Boise fills vacant school board seat, addresses COVID spread

Boise trustees appointed Elizabeth Langley to fill their vacant school board seat Monday night, bringing the board of Idaho’s second largest district up to full strength.

Elizabeth Langley is sworn in as a member of the Boise School Board Monday evening. Photo courtesy of Boise School District.

Langley is a businesswoman and parent who serves on the Boise Public Schools Foundation’s executive committee.

In her application, she wrote that the choice to apply was not easy, given the trustees’ responsibilities, which now include high-stakes decisions about school operations during the ongoing pandemic.

“After deep consideration it seems more imperative than ever that a committed person that cares deeply about education, educators and our children and who isn’t a political person take some responsibility as needed,” Langley wrote.

“If not now, when our children and our society needs our dedication more than ever, then when?”

Existing trustees voted by ballot to appoint Langley.

Langley was one of four finalists trustees interviewed during a public, in-person meeting Nov. 2. Nineteen people applied, district officials said.

“It is so gratifying to live in a community where people are interested,” trustee Nancy Gregory said. “It makes me feel really proud of our community that we have this many people who are engaged and qualified and ready to step up and serve.”

Langley fills the opening created in late September when former trustee Troy Rohn resigned. Rohn stepped down after complaining that national and state elected leaders have shirked their responsibilities for managing the coronavirus pandemic by punting the hard decisions to local officials such as school board members.

Monday’s meeting was a hybrid meeting. Some board members and school officials attended in person and Superintendent Coby Dennis and other board members attended remotely.

Langley attended in-person, was sworn in and took her seat at the dais for the remainder of the meeting.

Langley will serve until the next regular school board election in 2022. She will have the option of running for the remainder of the unexpired term of office, which runs until September 2024, district officials said.

COVID update

Trustees Monday addressed backlash from last week’s district announcement that the school district was not contributing to spread of COVID-19.

The message touched a nerve for some. Three school nurses signed a letter to trustees saying they were very concerned about the message the district was sending to the community.

“As school nurses, we are on the frontlines of this pandemic and see firsthand the number of positive COVID-19 students and staff currently in our district,” they wrote.

Acknowledging increasing cases in schools and the community, district leaders apologized for how last week’s announcement was worded and handled.

“We realize that there were some errors in the way that was conveyed,” Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts said. “We in no way want anybody in the public, our teachers, our parents to think we are downplaying this.

“We understand that the community spread is truly out of control and it is a huge concern of ours and it is coming into our schools.”

Since Nov. 3, the district has counted 61 new confirmed cases. That really covers three days of school, since schools were closed for Election Day. Over the preceding two weeks, the district counted 61 confirmed cases.

Trustees spent about 90 minutes discussing the pandemic and COVID spread with Dr. Mark Nassir, president of St. Alphonsus Medical Group, and Dr. Kenny Bramwell, system medical director for St. Luke’s Children’s hospital.

The two medical professionals said the rate of cases in the district, extrapolated out over a population of 100,000, is smaller than the rate of cases across the community.

But things could be changing rapidly, two weeks after Boise’s secondary students started returning to the classroom.

Both doctors stressed that Idaho’s spike in cases and pressure on hospitals in recent days means they need to continuously reassess their assessments and whether it is necessary to return to all remote learning. As of Monday night, they supported Boise’s hybrid plan.

Dennis said cases have emerged from students in quarantine in the past week, meaning the virus is spreading from known cases in a school.

“About a week ago, those things started to change a little bit and we are beginning to see that there are some cases that are popping up,” Dennis said. “That has an impact on our ability to control the virus within our schools.”

Compounding problems, Dennis said the district isn’t able to fill all the staff sick days and absences because there are not enough substitutes in the system taking shifts. For now, principals are getting creative, which sometimes means combining two classrooms together with one teacher in a larger space such as a cafeteria.

As of Monday evening, the district had 1,057 students and staff members in quarantine, representing about 4 percent of all students and staff.

Idaho Education News senior reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report. 

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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