Widespread uncertainty transforms teaching

Idaho’s schools are all over the map when it comes to teaching kids during Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order.

EdNews reviewed dozens of district and charter websites and found a spate of approaches amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic, which now reaches 30 of Idaho’s 44 counties. With an unclear outlook for when schools will reopen, efforts include:

  • Remote learning mingled with worksheets for kids to do at home.
  • Full transitions to online instruction.
  • Digital resources for parents homeschooling their kids.

Some districts are still trying to figure out what to do. The Fremont County, Mountain View, Butte County, Wendell, Gooding and Orofino districts had little or nothing instruction-wise on their websites as of Thursday.

Other districts, including Bear Lake, Snake River and Camas County, said teachers will contact parents and students.

Others are still tweaking plans.

“This is an unprecedented time, and our teachers and staff are committed to help keep our students learning,” the Idaho Falls district wrote on a webpage with teaching tips and curricula broken down for families by grade level and subject.

The website is temporary, as Idaho Falls plans to join the state’s largest districts in moving instruction online — a combined transition slated to impact more than a third of Idaho’s 310,000 public K-12 students:

  • The 40,000-student West Ada district last weekend rolled out its plan to teach kids online starting April 13.
  • The 25,000-student Boise district’s online model went live Monday.
  • The Nampa district made a similar transition for its more than 14,000 students Tuesday.
  • Bonneville, East Idaho’s largest with some 13,400 students, made the shift Wednesday.
  • The 12,500-student Pocatello-Chubbuck district will transition Monday.
  • North Idaho’s 11,000-student Coeur d’Alene district went online earlier this week.
  • Idaho Falls’ online transition for more than 10,000 students is also set for April 6.

Widespread uncertainty has accompanied the scramble to go digital. Both Boise and West Ada expressed initial reluctance over perceived inabilities to reach at-risk students remotely, including those on individualized education plans.

Lack of home Internet is another problem. At least 900 survey respondents in the West Ada district said they don’t have access.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last weekend urged states to continue educating students remotely, despite such hurdles.

A slew of approaches have followed. Coeur d’Alene is still developing a plan to deliver special education services to its students. That may include “revisions of IEP and 504 plans,” the district’s webpage reads.

Meanwhile, Nampa is focused on reaching homeless students. West Ada will augment its online program with printed materials for kids without Internet. Families without a computer in Coeur d’Alene and Bonneville can check one out with the district.

Other adjustments accompany the closures. The Garden Valley and Blackfoot districts bused worksheets — and lunches — to students stuck at home this week.

Most of Idaho’s charter schools have already transitioned to some form of online learning.

Further reading: Advice from an online educator on teaching kids remotely. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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