Some schools hope to reopen in May

West Side School District Superintendent Spencer Barzee doubts that Idaho’s students are learning even half of what they would be learning if schools hadn’t closed last month.

It’s one reason Barzee hopes to next week reopen his rural Southeast Idaho district of some 750 students.

“We’re doing the best we can, but it’s time to go back to school,” he told EdNews.

West Side is one of at least 89 Idaho districts and charters that say they could still reopen this spring, according to a recent EdNews poll. The decision to reopen rests with local school leaders, who face unique situations and differing criteria.

“We left the possibility of reopening before the end of the year, although we don’t think that will happen,” Jerome School District Superintendent Dale Layne told EdNews.

One roadblock for local leaders: the State Board of Education’s reopening criteria, which has required schools to wait out Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order. The order runs through April 30, with Little’s stages of reopening the state following suit.

Little’s order kept schools shuttered for weeks, and the State Board’s criteria, including a 14-day waiting period after confirmed cases of coronavirus have peaked, continue to prolong closures.

Districts and charters should work with local health officials to determine when cases in their areas have peaked, State Board President Debbie Critchfield told EdNews. “Not all districts are the same in this regard.”

Yet with summer around the corner, many local K-12 leaders think it’s too late.

“The consensus among administrators I speak with is that the work coming back with two weeks left would be more uncertain, stressful and disruptive than just finishing off the year at home,” said Joel Lovestedt, principal of Pocatello-based Connor Academy.

There is one caveat for some districts. Local health officials can wave the State Board’s 14-day waiting period for schools in counties where no community spread of coronavirus has occurred.

As of Wednesday morning, 17 of Idaho’s 44 counties had experienced community spread: Ada, Bannock, Bingham, Blaine, Bonneville, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Jefferson, Jerome, Kootenai, Lemhi, Owyhee, Madison, Payette, Teton and Twin Falls.

Districts and charters outside these counties, including Franklin County-based West Side, can reopen once Little’s order lifts — if local health officials sign off on cleaning and disinfection protocols for schools.

West Side is awaiting that approval, and it will likely be the district’s best shot at reopening.

“If we can’t get back on May 4th, there won’t be another effort to go back this school year,” said Barzee, adding that no confirmed cases in Franklin County and two of its surrounding counties fuel the drive to reopen.

Other districts and charters are in earlier phases of consideration:

  • The 479-student Potlatch district, in North Idaho’s Latah County, will discuss the matter during a board meeting Thursday.
  • On May 12, the Magic Valley’s Shoshone School District will likely consider reopening schools for its 489 students on May 18.

That would give Shoshone students two weeks to settle back in before being let out for the summer, Shoshone Superintendent Rob Waite told EdNews. But those two weeks “might help make next fall more productive,” Waite said.

Several districts have voted to not return, including Boise and Blaine County, where infection rates remain among the state’s highest.

Click here for districts and charters that say they could still reopen this spring.

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. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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