Boise, West Ada and Kuna schools placed in highest COVID-19 risk category

West Ada, Boise and Kuna school districts are in the highest category of transmission and risk of the coronavirus this week, health officials said — and that assessment aligns with a state recommendation to close schools.

In a Monday afternoon news release, Central District Health officials placed school districts from Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties into coronavirus risk categories for the first time. These categories align directly with the state’s nonbinding reopening guidance that Gov. Brad Little and the State Board of Education issued last month.

The categories are only recommendations for the current week, and school boards still make final reopening decisions. Health districts, however, do have the power to close schools under Idaho law.

The announcement was released less than two hours before the Boise School Board was scheduled to meet Monday evening to make a reopening decision. Boise’s first day is planned for Aug. 17 — two weeks away.

Central District Health placed West Ada, Boise and Kuna school districts in Category 3, which carries a recommendation for full distance learning or remote learning and the closure of school buildings. West Ada and Boise are the state’s two largest districts, accounting for more than 20 percent of Idaho’s K-12 students.

Central District Health placed the Basin, Garden Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Glenns Ferry, Mountain Home, Cascade and McCall-Donnelly school districts in Category 2. Under that designation, school leaders can essentially pick a learning model and response. But the state guidelines due include a hybrid or blended model — staggered or limited use of school buildings paired with remote learning.

Last week, Central District Health issued an announcement saying local schools and families in Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties should not expect to be classified in Category 1, the lowest level of transmission and risk, at any point during the 2020-21 school year.

Category 1 is the only designation in the state’s reopening plan that calls for a traditional learning model and all school buildings to be open without limits.

Central District Health will continue to post weekly assessment of community spread on its website Mondays.

“If category designations are adjusted, then schools and families should expect transition time as changes may or may not be immediate,” the Central District Health news release said.

Throughout the summer, Little and the State Board have encouraged schools to safely reopen at the end of the summer. On Monday afternoon, Little announced he will conduct a news conference Thursday to discuss reopening school.

Idaho Back to School Framework 2020 transmission and risk categories:

  • Category 1, no community transmission, traditional learning model, school buildings remain open.
  • Category 2, minimal to moderate community transmission, traditional, hybrid or full distance learning models allowed. State guidance also includes limited or staggered use of school buildings.
  • Category 3, substantial community transmission, full distance learning, school buildings closed.

Check back with Idaho Education News later Monday evening for full coverage of Boise’s reopening decision.

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