Idaho’s governor continues to urge schools to reopen for in-person instruction

Gov. Brad Little is encouraging schools to reopen at the end of the summer, as public health officials warn about high levels of risk of the coronavirus.

Speaking during an AARP Idaho-coordinated telephone town hall meeting Tuesday, Little said he wants kids back in school.

“I am doing everything I can to convince the trustees about how important it is to have kids in school,” Little said.

He told a caller, “You and I both want all the kids back in school; you and I both know that some kids just don’t learn well online.”

Little also said going back to school will look and feel different across the state. He and the State Board of Education are deliberately allowing local districts to come up with their own plans.

“That’s going to look different in different parts of the state,” Little said.

Throughout the summer, Little has said one of his top priorities has been to reopen schools. He and the State Board of Education have encouraged schools to reopen in person.

But the virus continues to spread.

On Monday, Central District Health placed the Boise, Kuna and West Ada school districts into the highest risk category for coronavirus transmission this week. The classification comes alongside nonbinding state guidance that calls for schools in Category 3 to be closed and deliver instruction remotely.

There may be some good news on the horizon though. Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said there are early indications that mask requirements and social distancing orders could be paying dividends by slowing growth in new cases.

Dave Jeppesen, director of Idaho’s Dept. of Health and Welfare speaks at a news conference on March 25, 2020 when Gov. Brad Little announced a statewide stay-at-home order due to coronavirus community spread. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

“We have started to see, in many areas of the state where those practices are being followed, some good turning trends in the data,” Jeppesen said. “I’m  not ready to call victory yet, but we are starting to see the impact of those things.”

On Tuesday, both of the state’s largest school districts — West Ada and Boise — were deciding how to begin the school year and whether students would attend in person or remotely.

Under the state’s reopening guidelines, local school boards still have the authority to develop their own local reopening plans. But under state law public health districts may close schools or issue quarantine orders or further restrictions.

Little has called a press conference for Thursday to discuss reopening school and Idaho’s status with the coronavirus reopening plan.

His next telephone town hall meeting is scheduled for Aug. 18.

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