Highlights from our interview with Debbie Critchfield


State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield Tuesday reiterated her support for having  school districts work with public health officials to determine if they will reopen school this year.

Critchfield took questions from reporters and the public during a one-hour remote interview streamed Tuesday on Idaho Education News’ Facebook page.

Earlier this month, the State Board approved extending a statewide soft closure of schools through the end of the year. But it didn’t close the door completely. On Thursday, the board approved a detailed set of criteria that schools would need to meet in order to reopen.

“If you think of it as a checklist of sorts, that ultimately a local board will make that determination based on state requirements, regulations, conversations with local public health and then a plan of their own of how they can make sure that the disinfection and sanitation protocols are in place,” Critchfield said.

Even if some schools reopen, Critchfield understands some families won’t feel comfortable sending their students back yet. That’s why absenteeism plans must be part of any school reopening plan.

“We recognize there would still be not only teachers but families that may say, ‘I’m still not comfortable sending my child into this environment regardless of what has changed,'” Critchfield said.

Extending the statewide school closure was one of the hardest decisions Critchfield said she has made.

“As an individual I spent a lot of time sorting through that, and sifting through, and talking, and trying to lay that out in my mind what that would look like,” Critchfield said. “And my family will tell you during that time, not that I was grumpy, but I was not that much fun to be around. It felt like such a heavy burden to make that type of a decision personally.”

Idaho EdNews reporters Clark Corbin and Kevin Richert broke Tuesday’s discussion into two topics: K-12 public schools and higher education. (The complete interview is available here, and at the top of this article.)

Critchfield, a mother and a former member of the Cassia County school board, answered several questions, including:

  • How does the local reopening criteria work for K-12 schools?
  • How does education look today if schools are closed?
  • Will my son or daughter still be able to gradate? Will they have to repeat the grade they are in?
  • Are teachers still being paid with the extended closures?
  • From an education standpoint, what has been your takeaway about the shift to online college instruction. What’s working? What isn’t?
  • What higher education could like in the fall, if colleges and universities cannot even hold large classes, due to social distancing guidelines remain in place?

At the end, Critchfield said she wants to support parents and teachers who are trying to do their best during these uncertain times.

“I have heard  over and over parents say ‘I’m a parent, I’m not a teacher. I’m trying to do the best I can,’” Critchfield said. “That’s exactly what you should be doing. And I think we have that same message to our teachers, do the best you can.”

Check back in with Idaho Education News for future live interviews featuring Idaho education leaders and state policymakers. You can also use the Ask Us Anything feature on the EdNews homepage to submit questions for reporters to look into.


Clark Corbin

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