The Middleton School District’s board of trustees approved a plan to move into full-time, in-person learning for kindergarten through fifth-graders this month, despite recommendations from Superintendent Kristin Beck and concerns from the Middleton Education Association.
The district is operating in a hybrid model with students on an A/B schedule, spending part time in the classroom and part time online. The board unanimously agreed Monday to adjust its plan.
Beck recommended bringing Middleton Academy students back to full-time classroom learning on Oct. 26. Middleton Academy is a ninth- through 12th-grade alternative school for students who have struggled in a traditional school setting. Beck recommended bringing kindergartners through fifth-graders back to school on Nov. 2, followed by sixth- through eighth-graders on Nov. 16 and pre-kindergarten and high school students back Jan. 4.
Beck’s plan did not open school quick enough, trustees said.
Trustee Derek Moore asked if the district could combine the full-time reopening of Middleton Academy with the full-time reopening of kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms on Oct. 26. He also suggested combining the reopening of sixth through eighth grades with the reopening of pre-kindergarten and high school classrooms on Nov. 16.
“That is only three weeks away for kindergarten through fifth grade,” Beck said.
The education association has members who are concerned with the health and safety of themselves and students, Beck said. “It is not a good idea to be going at full capacity right now.”
The board also read public comments from the MEA and concerned teachers.
“I think it would be irresponsible to open at 100 percent capacity and put the staff at increased risk,” wrote Wendy Jeffes, a fifth-grade teacher at Middleton Heights Elementary School.
Dave Stacy, MEA president, wrote to the board asking that the association be part of the conversations around reopening.
“The district briefly asked our opinions as they were forming its recommendations to the board,” Stacy said. “No in-depth conversations were had.”
One Middleton resident, Robin Tomasi, is a teacher and parent of two district students. She wrote to the board with concern about opening for full-time, in-person learning. She asked that teachers be given the option to opt out of their contracts if the district moves into a “green” phase and if the mask mandate and safety measures are not followed.
Middleton schools have reported seven positive COVID-19 cases, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Five cases have been reported at Middleton High School, one has been reported at Middleton Middle School and one at Middleton Heights.
A Middleton district employee died from COVID-19 in September. At the time, Beck declined to give details about the employee’s death, citing privacy concerns, but told trustees that the employee did not have contact with students.
The board mentioned that 120 students and staff were quarantined at Middleton High last month after they were exposed to a possible positive case.
Despite the comments, trustees moved forward with the modified reopening plan, with Middleton Academy students and kindergarten through fifth-grade students returning for full-time, in-person learning on Oct. 26 and sixth- through eighth-graders, pre-kindergarten and high school students returning for in-person learning on Nov. 16.
The board also added a mask mandate when students, teachers and staff are unable to maintain a distance of six feet from each other.
“The NFL is playing, you have a bunch of people trying to make it work,” said Kirk Adams, board chairman, adding, “if we don’t open now, then when?”