Coronavirus thrusts Idaho schools into uncharted instructional territory

Updated Wednesday, March 18, at 8:45 a.m. with more remote learning resources for families and educators. 

The shuttering of Idaho’s public schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has thrust districts and charters into new instructional territory.

“We are about to navigate uncharted waters with little, to no, preparation,” American Heritage Charter School wrote to parents on its Facebook page Tuesday.

The Idaho Falls charter joins over a dozen others moving coursework online in the hopes of avoiding potential weeks- or months-long disruptions to student learning. Yet with nine lab-confirmed cases of the virus in Idaho as of Tuesday evening, the ability to mold instruction around prolonged closures varies across the state.

Districts are also scrambling to provide resources for families.

“We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” Nampa spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck told Idaho Education News Tuesday. “Ideally, things will be back to normal March 30.”

Nampa is one of dozens of districts and charters to close down amid federal direction limiting groups to no more than 10 people. The district is now trying to get iPads to all of its K-6 students who will be home in the coming weeks. Nampa’s secondary students already have laptops equipped for online learning. Educators spent Tuesday drilling down what a forthcoming shift to digital learning could look like in the district.

Unlike some districts and charters, Nampa has a one-to-one ratio of students to electronic devices, Tuck said. And much of its curriculum is already suited for online instruction.

“We’re fortunate that way,” she added.

But digital infrastructure in Idaho varies from school to school.

The Madison district, in Rexburg, doesn’t have enough devices for all its 5,400 students to work from home, assistant superintendent Randy Lords told EdNews last week. Local internet access is also choppy.

“We have some families out here without TV, without computers or internet,” Lords said, adding that the district would have to make up hours or rely on a state waiver for mandated instructional hours if things worsen.

On Monday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and her deputies urged school leaders not to fret over lost instructional hours this late in the school year. Waivers are available for lost time during prolonged closures.

Other efforts to keep kids learning are emerging in realtime, as schools continue to announce closures. The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District shared a range of online math, science and English language arts resources for students stuck at home during the pandemic. The Snake River School District, which announced a closure Tuesday, is asking parents to get with their child’s teacher for learning activities.

Other schools haven’t waited for their districts to draft learning plans. Owyhee Elementary School teachers are reading books to students via Facebook live at night, Tuck said. Endeavor Elementary School will bring its morning announcements, which kids normally hear at the start of each school day, to the school’s Facebook page.

Those joining American Heritage in moving instruction completely online include:

  • Rockland School District
  • Rolling Hills Charter
  • Liberty Charter
  • Palouse Prairie Charter
  • North Idaho STEM Academy Charter
  • Heritage Community Charter
  • Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy
  • North Star Charter
  • Moscow Charter
  • Alturas International Academy
  • Gem Prep Pocatello
  • Gem Preo Meridian
  • Gem Prep Nampa
  • Forrest M. Bird Charter

Instructional resources for schools and families

K-12 Curriculum giant Scholastic is offering free online resources for families, teachers and administrators as more schools close. Scholastic Learn at Home has curriculum in both English and Spanish and breaks learning resources down by age groups.

Christina Linder, a director with the College of Southern Idaho, provided EdNews with several remote-instructional resources schools and families can use amid the closures:

  • Click here for a list of companies offering free subscriptions for educational services amid the pandemic.
  • Click here and here for additional resources.

Public Broadcasting Services is providing a range of online content to keep families and educators informed as the pandemic grows:

Click here for additional PBS resources for schools, families and children.

Disclosure: Linder is also a member of Idaho Education News’ governing board. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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