The State Board of Education will allow local school boards to make their own plans for reopening in the fall, board President Debbie Critchfield said Wednesday.
No state checklist.
No 100-page plan with diagrams of where to position each desk.
No advance approval from public health districts required.
No need to wait on the state to move forward developing those plans, either.
“We’re allowing school districts to make the decisions that they need to make,” Critchfield said. “Ultimately, the word trustee could not mean more than it ever has, right now, in my mind. They are a trustee of how a school district functions, elected by local patrons, influenced by the expectations and resources of a local community.”
It’s a departure from the spring, when the State Board adopted Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho Rebounds plan and its group size limitations and told school boards to have local public health officials sign off on reopening plans.
Critchfield discussed the State Board’s approach during an interview Wednesday, just as Little’s office unveiled two committees to address school reopening.
“Despite these extraordinary circumstances, it is my intent to have schools safely reopen across Idaho in the fall, although it may look different than it has in the past,” Little said in a statement. “Both of the committees, led by State Board of Education members, can support and remove barriers to the fall reopening, provide clear expectations, and identify the tools to meet those expectations.”
Critchfield will chair one of the committees and said its guidance will be instructional in nature. The intent is to help district officials as they make these decisions, not dictate a direction.
“We can serve as a repository for information and support districts as they make decisions,” Critchfield said. “Districts will make the decisions and we want to encourage that.”
One committee will focus on how to reopen in the fall and what reopening might look like. It will address health concerns and student learning expectations as well.
The other, chaired by State Board member Kurt Liebich, will focus on the digital divide, ensuring schools are in the right place to support students if they must move to a blended learning model that combines traditional in-person instruction with online or remote learning.
In addition to informational guidance, the committee is working to address liability issues for schools that reopen during the pandemic.
“One of the issues we need to address for reopening day-to-day is this liability aspect,” Critchfield said.
The committees will begin meeting next week and work quickly — maybe meeting twice a week — in hopes of issuing guidance by June 30.
Local school district plans do not have to align with whatever guidance the new committees produce, Critchfield said.
But she hopes the information will help districts as they develop reopening plans.
Critchfield issued a word of caution Wednesday. That’s the plan now. There are no plans to change course. But so much about the coronavirus is unpredictable and unprecedented.
“We adapt as we need to, understanding we cannot answer every question there is right now,” she said.
As Little’s committees ramp up, the State Board as a whole could slow down. As of now, the State Board does not have a July meeting scheduled and has not blocked out each Monday for a possible meeting, as it has since the pandemic hit Idaho.
“I don’t expect we have any agenda items that are so pressing we need to have that standing meeting though July,” Critchfield said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not working.”
The State Board reserves the right to call meetings, with proper notice, to act as needed, Critchfield said. But the bulk of the hard work in the coming weeks will occur in smaller State Board subcommittees and in Little’s committees. Several State Board members will sit on Little’s committees.
Once the new committees finish their work, Critchfield said she envisions they will send their plans to Little and the full State Board.
How we got here
Since mid-March, most public and charter schools have been physically closed. During the final months of the 2019-20 school year, educators focused on remote learning, ranging from full online programs to packets and worksheets sent home to students — and everything in between.
- March 23: the State Board issued a four-week soft closure of all public schools.
- March 25: Little issued a statewide stay-home order, extended through April 30.
- April 6: The State Board extended the soft closure through the end of the year. Initially, schools could get an exception if social distancing restrictions were lifted, several state conditions were met and if the local public health district approved a school’s plans.
- May 4: The State Board adopted Little’s Idaho Rebounds reopening plan, which limited gatherings to fewer than 10 people through May 29. That effectively kept most school buildings closed for the academic year.
As Little responded to the virus, he was met by pushback from Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and words of caution House Speaker Scott Bedke, who urged him not to overstep his authority.
Little’s new committees include a mix of State Board members, legislators, school administrators, representatives from Little’s office and Central District Health program manager Gina Pannell.
Other notable committee members include:
- Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a member of the House Education Committee.
- West Side School District Superintendent Spencer Barzee. This spring, West Side’s board wanted to reopen. But the local public health district rejected those plans.
- Homedale district Superintendent Rob Sauer. Sauer has expressed concerns that schools could face liability concerns, after insurance carriers notified school districts they probably won’t cover costs if someone catches coronavirus at school and files a lawsuit. Critchfield said liability issues will addressed before schools reopen, and she hopes to have some information out by the end of June.
- Committee rosters
Public Schools Reopening Committee
Debbie Critchfield (chair), State Board.
Linda Clark, State Board.
Sherri Ybarra, state superintendent.
Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.
Rep Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.
Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City.
Greg Wilson, Little’s office.
Brian Armes, Office of School Safety and Security.
Spencer Barzee, West Side School District.
Ryan Bowman, Twin Falls School District.
Steve Cook, Coeur d’Alene School District.
Bob Donaldson, Lewiston School District.
Julie Douty, Vallivue School District.
Jonathan Gillen, West Ada School District.
Ty Jones, Idaho High School Activities Association.
Karen Pyron, Butte School District trustee.
Donell McNeal, West Ada district.
Stephanie Myers, Boise School District.
Angela Rodriguez, Cassia School District.
Anne Ritter, Meridian Medical Arts Charter School Board.
Rob Sauer, Homedale School District.
Lisa Sherrick, State Department of Education.
Gina Pannell, Central District Health.
Digital Divide Committee:
Kurt Liebich (chair), State Board.
Greg Wilson (vice chair), Little’s office.
Sen Jim Woodward, R-Sagle.
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.
Laurie Anderson, Micron Foundation.
Toni Broyles, University of Idaho.
Chris Campbell, SDE.
Marc Carignan, Bluum.
Theresa Carter, Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
Matt Compton, Idaho Education Association.
Spencer Cook, Sugar-Salem School District.
Steve Cook, Coeur d’Alene district.
Seth Deniston, Coeur d’Alene district.
Keven Denton, West Ada district.
Karen Echeverria, Idaho School Boards Association.
Eric Forsch, Department of Commerce.
Marc Gee, Preston School District.
Will Goodman, Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
Rod Gramer, Idaho Business for Education.
Andy Grover, Idaho Association of School Administrators.
Cassidy Hall, University of Idaho, Doceo Center.
Peter Jurhs, Nampa School District.
Paula Kellerer, Nampa district.
Russell Miles, Orofino School District.
Simon Miller, Kellogg School District.
Andrew Moore, Glenns Ferry School District.
Kelley Packer, Association of Idaho Cities.
David Roberts, Boise district.
Terry Ryan, Bluum.
Robert Sanchez, IBE.
Steve Schellenburg, Snake River School District.
Michelle VanBeek, Nampa district.