Nampa teachers ask for online-only start to the school year

Raquel Mendes and her son, Luke, work on his homework on the first day of digital learning in the Nampa School District. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

The Nampa teacher’s union is asking for an online-only start to the 2020-21 school year, citing high rates of coronavirus infections in Canyon County and what union leaders consider inaction among county and city officials.

In a letter written Tuesday by Nampa Education Association president Eric Maine, the union asked the Nampa School Board to host all classes online until Canyon County has fewer than 50 coronavirus cases per day, shows a “consistent decline” in new cases on a seven-day average and has a positive testing rate of below 5 percent.

Maine argues that the district’s investment in 1:1 devices positions it to deliver effective online education to its roughly 14,000 students.

“We cannot be responsible for putting our students, staff and families at risk if we have the opportunity and ability to avoid it,” Maine wrote.

The district’s draft reopening plan, available on its website, lists three possible scenarios for the fall: traditional instruction; allowing buildings to remain open, with various remote-learning and virus-mitigation strategies; and remote, or hybrid, learning.

Nampa expects school buildings to open when students resume learning in mid-August, district spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said, but plans are flexible depending on the virus’ spread.

“The purpose of the plan having three categories is that we can move between them as the situation in our community changes,”  she said.

Tuck expects the Nampa school board to consider the reopening plan at a meeting on Thursday. The State Board of Education also plans to host a meeting with Treasure Valley education leaders on Wednesday to discuss reopening plans.

Maine’s letter notes that union members want to “be back in the classrooms with students doing what we love.” He says the continued closure will have an impact on the mental health of students and staff, and he asks the district to increase counseling and support for “those who are distressed by the extended time away from the norm of being in the buildings.”

But he points to safety concerns in Canyon County that he feels outweigh in-person learning, for now:

Canyon County coronavirus cases, courtesy of Southwest District Health.
  • Coronavirus cases are higher in Canyon County now than when schools closed in late March.
  • Canyon County would be considered a “hot spot” for the coronavirus, according to leaders of the Centers for Disease Control. CDC director Robert Redfield said that in hotspots “remote and distance learning may need to be adopted.”
  • And Maine argues children can transmit coronavirus effectively, and that opening schools in areas of high virus transmission creates the risk that buildings could become “super-spreader environments.”

Maine’s letter praises district leadership for supporting students and families during the school closures this spring. City and county leaders have not been willing to “mandate the steps to mitigate the spread of the disease,” Maine wrote and governing authorities have “left school districts on an island” when it comes to making reopening decisions. As a consequence, the district must not only make educational decisions for kids, but also decide how to “protect the health and very lives of students, staff and families.”

Tuck issued a public statement Tuesday morning in response to Maine’s letter.

“The district cares for and values all our staff and understand the thoughts and concerns that were expressed in our association’s letter,” it said. “The board and district will continue to seek input from our community, our association and medical professionals to make the most informed decisions.”

Read the union’s full letter here:

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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