Public blocked from first SDE standards review committee meeting

The public was blocked Monday from much of an inaugural meeting of a new State Department of Education committee engaging in the highly charged process of rewriting academic standards.

SDE officials published incomplete information when they provided public notice for the Idaho Content Standards Mathematics Review Committee remote meeting.

Within five minutes of the meeting’s scheduled starting time, Idaho Education News told three SDE officials, including Director of Communications Karlynn Laraway, that the public could not access the meeting. The SDE did not stop the meeting. Forty-six minutes into the meeting, SDE provided passwords providing public access.

SDE officials could have stopped the meeting as soon as they realized there was an access issue, Idaho Press Club Vice President Melissa Davlin said.

“The governor’s March 13 executive order on open meetings specifically says the public must be allowed to attend via video teleconferencing,” Davlin said.

There is significant public interest in the standards committee’s work. Hundreds of people have packed the Statehouse in recent years to provide testimony during the ongoing standards debate.

Earlier this year, the House Education Committee voted to repeal all academic standards in math, science and English before it was overruled by the Senate Education Committee.

Several legislators who were outspoken during the debate now have a seat on the committees rewriting the standards.

The process has such a high profile that at least four committees are looking at the issue — a legislative interim committee that convened last week and three SDE Content Standards Review Committees. The SDE has separate committees for science, English and math standards.

“Now more than ever, the public needs to know what their government agencies are doing,” Davlin said. “We understand the learning curve involved with conducting public meetings via video teleconferencing, but the Idaho Press Club urges officials to err on the side of transparency and follow Idaho’s Open Meeting Laws, including, but not limited to, pausing meetings when there are access issues.”

After Idaho EdNews raised the issue, SDE officials sent a news release including passwords necessary to connect to the meeting. They released that information at 10:46 a.m. Prior to issuing the news release, a SDE spokeswoman provided Idaho EdNews with a password at 10:19 a.m.

The meeting began at 10 a.m. The meeting was already in progress once the public could connect, so it was difficult to tell who was running the meeting, what the format was or who was speaking at a given time.

Committee members later did introduce themselves, although a handful did not respond when called on.

Committee members also stressed the differences between standards and curriculum.

Standards, they said, are what students should be able to know, understand and be able to do.

Curriculum, on the other hand, covers how the standards are taught and the resources and texts used to teach them.

The job of the committee is to rewrite the standards. Local districts and schools make curriculum decisions.

Because much of the meeting happened in secret Monday, it was not clear if any action was taken. The math standards committee is expected to meet again Aug. 3.

Monday’s meeting represented the first step in what is expected to be a time-consuming and intricate process. The committees are expected to produce draft standards in time for the October 2021 State Board of Education meeting.

The standards would then go to the Idaho Legislature during the 2022 session.

School reopening committee deadline extended

Gov. Brad Little’s Public School Reopening Committee is pushing its self-imposed June 30 deadline to Thursday as anticipation builds among educators and parents across Idaho.

The committee, which Little only unveiled earlier this month, said by Tuesday it would have nonbinding guidance regarding best practices for reopening K-12 schools in the fall.

That deadline is being pushed to July 2. But guidance won’t actually reach school officials until the middle of next week, said Greg Wilson, Little’s education advisor.

The reopening committee’s subcommittees are submitting drafts and pieces of plans today, tomorrow and likely Wednesday. Staffers will prepare to combine and present that information to the full reopening committee during its next meeting, which is set for 3 p.m. Thursday.

It will then likely take staffers until the middle of next week to get the information entered into user friendly format and sent to school administrators, Wilson said.

While the guidance won’t be mandates or orders, it will be closely watched.

The State Board of Education has already signaled that — unlike the spring — it will leave the reopening decisions to local school boards and administrators.

“I had two superintendents today ask me when the guidance was coming out from the State Board and governor’s office, so they are anxious for that before they take the next steps,” West Side Superintendent Spencer Barzee said.

“I’ve been asked quite a bit, so we’re a very popular committee in the state right now; lots of eyes are watching us as we complete our work,” State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said.

Although questions about school COVID-19 liability are front and center as local school administrators begin to develop reopening plans, the Reopening Committee is not likely to address that this week or next. Superintendents have said insurance carriers told them they are unlikely to cover costs if someone catches COVID-19 at a school and sues.

Critchfield said the liability issue is in a holding pattern. Wilson said there are moving parts. The liability issue is one of three issues that Little has said could justify a special session of the Legislature.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders unveiled a new working group earlier Monday that will take up several COVID-19 issues, potentially including liability.

Members of the Reopening Committee said there is a sense of urgency behind the matter and someone needs to take action.

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

Little staffers test positive

Two unidentified members of Gov. Brad Little’s staff have tested positive for COVID-19, the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press newspapers reported Monday.

Neither staffer had contact with Little during the infectious period, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported.

Little has not been tested, Russell reported.

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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