Public school sports and other extracurricular activities will be able to continue in Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties. On Tuesday, Central District Health’s Board of Health voted to a 3-3 draw on a public health order.
Originally, the draft order would have prohibited all sports and extracurricular activities in an effort to slow the spread of surging COVID-19 cases. But public testimony prompted the district to amend the order and postponed a vote, according to director Russell Duke.
“From those comments, I have, obviously reviewed them and talked with my team here about what the orders could look like if we were to modify them compared to the ones that we posted for the public to view and for you to consider tonight,” Duke said during a Friday meeting.
The other changes to the public health order include exemptions to wearing face coverings, visits to long-term care facilities and bar-top seating at bars and nightclubs.
Tuesday’s meeting followed Boise School District’s Board of Trustees, who on Monday night voted to allow the winter season to begin later in the month. Nampa School District’s board will be voting on a similar item on Wednesday evening.
Previously, CDH has made only recommendations via a public health advisory to education leaders, leaving decisions about extracurricular activities and opening schools to local trustees. The order exempts school-related safety measures.
The district was originally scheduled to vote on the order on Dec. 8, but the meeting was forced to adjourn after just 15 minutes when Duke received a call from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and the police department demanding the meeting be ended due to concerns over safety.
A large protest gathered outside of the CDH building with people also gathering outside of the homes of board members. Director Diana Lachiondo left the meeting just seconds in after hearing her son was home alone and scared of people outside.
Coronavirus case numbers in K-12 schools surged last week, with the state setting multiple records in case counts.
Ada Boise, Elmore and Valley counties are rated in the “red” or highest risk level for coronavirus spread.
Kuna School District Board Chair JD Grant sent a letter to CDH on Thursday, pleading to spare sports and activities from the order.
“If school-sponsored activities are cancelled, students who have parents who can afford to will immediately connect them to club sports in other counties,” Grant wrote. “From our experience, these organizations do not follow the recommended safety protocols.”
Grant also cited student emotional health as an important reason for continuing activities that keep students engaged, supervised and motivated for school.
“To be honest, it is very difficult to explain to our children and our parents why bars can be open but healthy, engaging activities such as athletics and music are off-limits,” Grant wrote.
CDH’s draft order would have prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people, both public and private. There were exceptions, including gatherings for political expression and religious activities for the specific purpose of worship.
In Ada County, Rolling Hills Public Charter School remains the only school that is fully in person. In Boise County, Basin and Horseshoe Bend districts are in person, while Garden Valley recently issued a temporary building closure because of staffing problems. In Elmore County, Prairie Elementary is the sole school operating in person. In Valley County, only Cascade School District is operating in person. (Here is Idaho Education News’ map of school operating plans compared to county coronavirus risk levels.)
The order also would have required face coverings for all people in situations where maintaining 6 feet of physical distance from those who are not members of the same household is possible. For school settings, it required face coverings at all times regardless of distancing, unless a person is alone in a private office with doors closed, or if educators can maintain a distance of 10 feet during instruction.
The order would have allowed leaders in the cities to enact stricter public health rules if they deem necessary.