(UPDATED: 10:45 a.m., Sunday to include the Idaho Education Association’s call to close all schools.)
Gov. Brad Little will host a conference call at noon today with state education leaders to discuss how districts and charter schools should respond to coronavirus.
The call comes in the wake of five confirmed coronavirus cases in Idaho. Little has asked education leaders to wait until after the conference call to consider closing schools. On Saturday, the Blaine County and Coeur d’Alene school districts decided to close until the first week of April.
State superintendent Sherri Ybarra and State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield were invited to be on the call, as well as key members of Little’s staff.
In a news release issued Sunday morning, the Idaho Education Association called for the state to close all schools for at least three weeks.
“Education leaders are uniquely positioned to help ‘flatten the curve’ and stave off a public health crisis,” IEA President Layne McInelly said in a written statement. “Recognizing that school buildings often hold more than 250 people, five days a week, we must close our schools immediately for the health of our communities, students and staff.”
The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Worldwide, more than 156,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus, and more than 5,800 people have died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Boise School District Superintendent Coby Dennis told parents late Saturday he met with his staff throughout the day and evening analyzing the most current information regarding coronavirus. He also participated in a conference call with Little education adviser Greg Wilson and superintendents from West Ada, Nampa, Caldwell, Kuna, and other Treasure Valley school districts.
In a note posted on the district’s website, Dennis also said Little’s office requested that schools wait until after Sunday’s conference call to make a decision on closing schools.
“Superintendents across the valley are trying to balance concerns from parents, guidance from Central District Health and other medical professionals, as well as what is in the best interest of every student and staff member,” Dennis wrote. “Of course, we will respect the right of parents/guardians to make choices they believe are best for their child.”
Blaine County announced school closures Saturday, shortly after health officials reported a confirmed case of coronavirus in the area. Announcing their closure, the Coeur d’Alene district cited the three confirmed coronavirus cases in the Spokane area, reported Saturday by Washington state officials.
Idaho’s colleges and universities have decided to move classes to online only, a decision supported by the State Board.
Centers for Disease Control guidelines suggest that closing schools for a few weeks early on probably won’t help stem the spread of coronavirus — and could cause a host of trouble.
“Closing schools early in the spread of disease for a short time (e.g., two weeks) will be unlikely to stem the spread of disease or prevent impact on the health care system, while causing significant disruption for families, schools and those who may be responding to COVID-19 outbreaks,” the CDC guidelines say.
But there is a time and place for closures, CDC says. For example, if someone in a school community contracts the virus, the school should consider closing down for a few days to disinfect the campus and track the potential spread of the disease.