Idaho coronavirus response, 6.9.20: Ybarra says questions remain about return to school in the fall

While parents and teachers are clear they want to go back in the fall, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said there are still a lot of uncertainties over what the next school year will look like.

Speaking during a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce webinar on the coronavirus’ impact on education Tuesday, Ybarra said districts are preparing for a host of possibilities in the fall, from blended learning to students attending school in small groups only on certain days of the week to physical distancing requirements and  more.

“Well, that still is an open-ended question,” Ybarra said. “I know that educators want to be with their kids.

“The reality is we do need to look at the possibility that we may not start the fall in the traditional setting that we are used to,” Ybarra continued.

Other than in rare exceptions, most of Idaho’s public schools and charters closed their physical buildings in mid-March and finished the academic year through remote learning.

Ybarra and the rest of the State Board of Education are going to develop guidelines and recommendations for reopening in the fall. Ybarra emphasized Tuesday that Idaho is a “local control state,” meaning many decisions will fall to individual districts.

Across the state, people are hoping a traditional return to school in the fall is possible, even though state officials warn a second wave of the virus could lead to a spike in cases in the fall or winter.

One of the things parents and educators are worried about is a slide in learning due to coronavirus’ extended disruptions leading into the traditional summer break.

Ybarra said one way parents can help, especially in the early elementary grades, is to read with their children.

“No. 1, for me as a former third grade teacher, reading by the third grade is so important, so I would say please make sure you are reading with your children and they are  engaged in the things they might be expected to learn in the following year,” she said.

As for additional resources, Ybarra pointed parents toward the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, Idaho Public Television’s broadcasts of elementary school level lessons and instructions, Khan Academy and more resources that are all available on the state’s coronavirus website.

Tuesday’s webinar was moderated by former House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, who now serves as a vice president for government and community relations at the Boise Metro Chamber. Idaho Education News served as one of the sponsors of the event.

Little, McGeachin make joint appearance

After a rift between the two was exposed during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Brad Little invited Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin to participate in his weekly coronavirus telephone town hall meeting Tuesday.

Janice McGeachin

It was a rare joint appearance for the state leaders. McGeachin said she was blindsided by Little’s March stay-home order. Last month, Little told reporters that he and McGeachin had not spoken for about three weeks during the heart of the pandemic.

If there are any hard feelings between the two, it didn’t show Tuesday. They both praised each other and said they need to work together.

Much of the call was devoted to Little’s new proposal to leverage federal CARES ACT money to reduce property taxes if local municipalities agree to freeze their property tax rates at this year’s level.

McGeachin praised Little’s property tax proposal, saying that she wrote to him April 14 asking him to consider cutting taxes.

“As a small business owner myself, and having run on a platform of supporting businesses, I wish to thank the governor for substantial property tax relief for the citizens of Idaho,” McGeachin said.

Education didn’t really come up during the one-hour event.

Little also declined to reveal whether the state will progress to the next stage of the state’s reopening plan this week.

Instead, he asked Idahoans to wait for a Thursday morning press conference.

“We’ll have a press conference Thursday and (Idaho Health and Welfare Director) Dave (Jeppesen) and his crew will give me a briefing Wednesday about where we are so we know whether we can go forward, but I remind everybody that 99 percent of businesses in Idaho can be open today, if they so choose,” Little said.

Little said he and Jeppesen are focused on giving Idahoans the confidence that the state has ample health care capacity and is doing the right things to get through the pandemic as smoothly as possible.

“People yesterday, when I was going around the state, are saying ‘we’re opened up but our customers, our consumers, our employees aren’t back like they were before,’” Little said.

Former Ybarra advisor dies

Chuck Zimmerly

Chuck Zimmerly, the former community relations officer under Ybarra at the State Department of Education, has died.

Zimmerly was a close confident of Ybarra, who introduced him at her very first press conference in January 2015. In addition to his work for the SDE, Zimmerly was involved in Ybarra’s election campaigns and transition team.

“Chuck Zimmerly was a loyal member of the State Department of Education team since I first took office,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “He was one of my most trusted advisors, colleagues and, most of all, friends. He was also a true believer in our mission of supporting schools and students to achieve. He will be deeply missed, and I am heartbroken at his passing. My deepest sympathy goes out to his wife and their family.”

Zimmerly, worked for Ybarra on a contract basis until he retired at the end of the last year, an SDE spokeswoman said. Zimmerly was retired and there is no search for a replacement, the SDE said.

Zimmerly previously worked as the interim director of Idaho State University’s Intermountain Center for Education Excellence.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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