The Boise School District plans to continue bringing students to school part-time in a hybrid learning model, even as Ada County’s positive COVID-19 tests increase, under a plan supported by the local health district.
District and health officials discussed that plan with Boise trustees at a special meeting Friday morning, where Central District Health program manager Gina Pannell applauded Boise’s work limiting the spread of COVID-19 within schools so far.
Boises’s pre-K through second-grade students have been attending school on an alternating day schedule since late September. Third- through sixth-graders returned to schools last week.
“For now, we’re not seeing this school district contribute to transmission in the community … that is a huge indicator for us that things are going as they should be,” Pannell said.
CDH anticipates sending Ada County into the “red” or high-risk category for community transmission of COVID-19 at a meeting Tuesday. That category generally recommends schools use remote instruction over in-person learning. But the health district announced Friday that it will continue to support “maintaining operations with some level of in-person learning,” even in the higher risk designation.
That guidance could change, a CDH news release said, if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
CDH is asking Boise to continue with strict enforcement of mask protocols and social distancing among students as it brings back upper grade levels. Junior high and high school students are slated to return part-time starting Oct. 19. School district officials say implementing that “Phase 3” return of secondary students will depend on whether the district can continue to maintain safety protocols, and the support of health experts.
“I cannot say enough how appreciative we are of the work that our staff and our community is doing to ensure that we can keep going,” Superintendent Coby Dennis said. “All of us took a leap of faith at the beginning of this that what we were planning was going to work — and it seems to be working.”
The Boise School District has seen a decline in COVID-19 cases even as it has continued to phase students back to school, according to district data. Dennis said Friday that the only two cases of community spread in the district happened between adult staff members before students returned to school buildings, and that the district has zero documented cases of community spread related to sports teams.
Stephanie Myers, president of the Boise Education Association, said teachers are a little nervous about the plan. They will continue to advocate that the district follows CDH guidance, Myers said, but are somewhat concerned that the district’s current data is limited to the return of pre-K through second-grade students and only a week of third- through sixth-grade students back in buildings.
“Having more data is always better to make well-informed decisions for our students and our staff,” Myers said.
Though Boise will stay the course with hybrid learning, the district doesn’t plan to bring students back for full-time in-person instruction this semester, Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts said.
“We had lofty goals of bringing our students back five days a week,” Roberts said. “However, with the amount of spread in the community, we just cannot adequately distance enough if we have all of our students back in the classrooms.”