The Middleton School District wants to do its own data analysis to decide if schools are safe to reopen.
Trustees decided on Monday night to make their own reopening plans, after a few voiced concern that the reopening guidelines published by Southwest District Health don’t accurately reflect the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Middleton.
The school board also postponed the opening of school three weeks until Sept. 8 to allow the district more time to prepare for reopening.
Board chair Kirk Adams told EdNews he thinks the county-wide risk assessment done by Southwest District Health is too restrictive on Middleton. He doesn’t believe Middleton is at the same risk level as other districts in the area, and said the board plans to work with health agencies to get more specific numbers.
“If there comes a day that pandemic numbers materialize, we will definitely respond accordingly,” Adams said. “The board believes that number hasn’t been reached. We believe the benefits of school far outweigh the risk.”
Middleton hopes to have metrics determined by Aug. 28, the same week the Legislature could clear up school district concerns over COVID-19 liability and who has control over closing schools.
The Legislature plans to convene for an extraordinary session the week of Aug. 24. Two possible talking points are civil liability for schools and whether Idaho health districts have the authority to close schools. Currently, health districts do have that authority, but a proposal by Ryan Kerby R-New Plymouth would limit health districts to an advisory role.
“We would have the decision, the final say, if our school was open or not and in what category,” Adams said.
Middleton’s legal team cautioned the board from breaking from district health guidelines, superintendent Kristin Beck said. On Tuesday, the Idaho School Boards Association issued the same advice.
ISBA director Karen Echeverria said even if the Legislature softens COVID-19 liability, districts will still need to act prudently. She encouraged them to follow CDC and health district guidelines.
“If you are ignoring those and doing something different, you put yourself at greater risk to lose your immunity that may be granted by the Legislature,” Echeverria said.
While the district has not yet decided which reopening plan it will adopt, students in Middleton will likely return in-person at least one day a week.
Trustees voted to amend their plan for reopening under the most intense COVID-19 risk, adjusting an entirely-remote learning plan to instead allow a limited number of students to enter the buildings to work in small groups.
“While we believe it’s important to remain in compliance with the ratings set forth by Southwest District Health, we’re not real comfortable starting school without any face-to-face interaction with our students,” Beck told the school board.
While the district’s plan, as currently written, doesn’t have an option for online-only learning Adams said the district will consider that if the coronavirus rates start to climb in Middleton.
In a news release, Wednesday, the district spokeswoman Vickie Holbrook said the district is also still working to finalize staffing and plans for the online school. As of Monday nearly 1,300 Middleton students had still not registered for school.
More Idaho counties under mask mandates
More Idaho counties are under mask mandates this week as the first day of school draws closer.
Central District Health’s Board of Health voted to pass a new order Tuesday night mandating people wear masks or face coverings in all Valley County public places, including schools.
The language mirrors the wording of a public health order that is already in place for Ada County.
“Every person is required to wear a face covering that completely covers the person’s nose and mouth when the person is in a public place or on the property of a public or private or charter school, or technical school, or college or university, and others are present and physical distancing of six feet cannot be maintained,” the order states.
The Valley County mandate was requested by and had the unanimous support of Valley County Commissioners, according to a CDH news release.
Public school districts Cascade and McCall-Donnelly are in Valley County.
On Monday, Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board passed new mask mandates in Fremont, Jefferson and Teton counties, the Post Register reported. Eastern Idaho’s most heavily populated county, Bonneville County, already has a mask mandate in place.
The mask mandate in Teton County had lapsed for about three hours before it was reinstated Monday, the Post Register reported. It had expired at 5 p.m. Monday.