Citing the community and state government leaders’ inability to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, the Boise school board voted unanimously Thursday to move to 100 percent remote learning after Thanksgiving break.
The board also voted to suspend athletics effective immediately, including games, practices, workouts and extracurricular activities.
Under the move, Boise schools will operate under a 100 percent remote learning schedule from Nov. 30 through Jan. 15. District leaders do not anticipate having any students in the schools at that time.
Next week, Boise will continue hybrid operations, but families who feel unsafe may keep their students home, Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts said. Teachers will also have the option to teach from school or from home.
Factoring in Martin Luther King Day, hybrid or in-person classes could resume Jan. 19.
The change moves nine instructional days to remote learning, Roberts said.
Superintendent Coby Dennis said closing schools and moving to full remote learning is necessary because the district cannot sustain operations with so many people ill.
There were 1,580 Boise students and staff members in quarantine Thursday, district officials said. That’s up by 467 people just since Monday, when the district reported 1,113 students and staff members in quarantine.
Human Resources Director Nick Smith said the district has had a pretty sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases over the past nine days.
Since Nov. 3, the district has counted 126 positive cases among students and staff across the district. That’s more than double the 61 positive cases the district counted during the previous two weeks.
What’s more, the district is facing a shortage of substitute teachers, it can’t fill open classified job postings and there are so many staff members out that five special programs had to close.
“We have done everything we can up to this point to maintain our normal operations,” Dennis said. “Unfortunately, and it makes me sad to say this, we are at a critical place right now where operationally we can’t make this work any more.”
District leaders said the high rate of COVID-19 in the community is preventing them from teaching students in-person.
“The actions of everyone outside of our schools is impacting our schools,” school board member Beth Oppenheimer said.
“I feel like as a community we failed our students,” board member Maria Greeley said.
Boise started the school year with full remote learning, but then gradually returned students under its hybrid plan in September after Central District Health moved schools to the yellow category. Boise continued to operate under the hybrid learning model after Central District Health moved the county to the red, or highest coronavirus transmission category, on Oct. 13. CDH supported continuing to offer in-person learning in the red, even though the state’s original, nonbinding reopening guidelines called for moving to remote learning in the red.
Even as recently as Monday, Dr. Mark Nassir, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Group, and Dr. Kenny Bramwell, system medical director for St. Luke’s Medical Group, said they supported the district’s hybrid operations plan. However, Nassir and Bramwell warned that the recent spike in cases across the community will require them to continue to reassess the situation.
Boise is the state’s second largest school district based on enrollment, serving about 26,000 K-12 students.