Little’s school reopening committee cancels meeting, delays action on draft guidelines

Gov. Brad Little’s Public School Reopening Committee is cancelling today’s July 2 meeting and pushing back to next week its vote on a draft of nonbinding guidance intended for local school officials.

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said Thursday morning that she decided to cancel the meeting and delay action on the draft because the draft needs more work.

“We’re going to use today as a work day, there are just some holes in some of this,” Critchfield said. “As you know, the priority was to have a user-friendly document that took in at least most of the issues we’re trying to address.”

Instead, the Public School Reopening Committee now plans to meet Monday morning, possibly at 8 a.m., to consider a draft, Critchfield said.

The committee was planning to meet at 3 p.m. July 2 and vote on a draft of information intended to help local school officials develop their own plans for reopening in the fall.

Little just announced the committee last month.

Committee members originally gave themselves an ambitious June 30 deadline to put together a draft of reopening guidelines. Now, it’s looking like the draft won’t come together until next week.

If the reopening committee approves a draft Monday, the State Board of Education is likely to call a special meeting for Wednesday morning July 8 to consider adopting the guidelines, Critchfield said. Staff would then work to send any plans to local school officials, possibly as early as the close of business Wednesday, Critchfield said.

“The right thing is to use today as a working day and we’re eying Monday morning (for reconvening the committee),” Critchfield said. “Then they can look at draft that is ready for prime time.”

At any rate, Critchfield and other committee members know timing is a major concern with public schools across the state hoping to reopen for class next month.

The State Board of Education has already said local school trustees and administrators will come up with their own reopening plans for fall. Local districts don’t need to wait for the committee’s guidance to come out before moving ahead.

The reopening committee is preparing to issue nonbinding guidance that is intended to share best practices and help school officials making the decisions.

Even if guidance reaches school officials next week, it likely won’t include direction on one of the trickiest issues facing reopening — liability. School administrators have said insurance carriers have told them the likely won’t cover costs if someone contracts COVID-19 at a school and sues.

Earlier this week, Critchfield and Little’s education liaison Greg Wilson said the liability issues remain in a sort of holding pattern. Little has said the liability issue is one of three reasons he would consider calling a special session of the Legislature. Meanwhile, the Legislature announced a new working group this week looking at a host of COVID-19 issues, potentially including liability.

“It’s not as simple as just kind of waiving a wand,” Wilson said Monday. “We’ve got lawyers involved and they are fairly methodical.”

All the while, school leaders are watching the calendar and waiting for help.

“I had two superintendents today ask me when the guidance was coming out from the State Board and governor’s office,” West Side School District Superintendent Spencer Barzee said Monday.


Clark Corbin

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