The State Board of Education unanimously approved minimum criteria that local schools would need to meet if they hope to reopen this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The first element that must be met is all statewide and local social-distancing requirements, including a stay-home order, must be lifted. That means schools would not be able to open this month because Gov. Brad Little extended the statewide stay-home order through April 30.
The local reopening requirements are the latest development in the state’s response to spread of the coronavirus.
Last week, on April 6, the State Board voted unanimously to extend the physical closure of schools through the end of the academic year. But, in doing so, the board carved out a caveat that local school officials could attempt to reopen if they meet new criteria.
The board approved that criteria Thursday. It was developed in consultation with state and local public health officials and states:
- No statewide or local social distancing restrictions, including stay-home orders or extensive closures of businesses are in place.
- The peak of the state infection curve has passed, as determined by the State Department of Health and Welfare, and a minimum of 14 days have passed from the identified peak. In those instances where local community spread has occurred, the local infection curve will be evaluated for determining the 14 consecutive days. School districts and charter schools located in counties that have experienced no community spread at the time state restrictions are lifted may have the 14 consecutive days criteria waived with approval by the local public health district.
- Approval by the local public health district, after review of school district and charter school cleaning and disinfection protocols.
- Reentry plan approved by the local board of trustees identifying minimum school protocols.
At a minimum, each local reopening plan must include:
- Cleaning and disinfection protocols.
- Identify and plan for vulnerable staff and students, especially people 60 and over and those who are medically vulnerable.
- Identify and plan for staff duties that require close contact.
- An absenteeism plan for staff and students whose parents do not feel comfortable returning their student to school and for students who show symptoms of the coronavirus.
- A communications plan for informing parents and staff of the school district and charter school response plans, protocols and policies to manage the impact of the coronavirus.
- A point of contact for each school district and charter school for effective communication and collaboration with local public health officials.
- A review of reopening plans in consultation with local public health officials.
School leaders can also apply the criteria for any potential summer operations they are considering, said Greg Wilson, Little’s chief education adviser. Additional criteria governing opening for the fall start of the school year will be developed based on the conditions at that time, Wilson added.
The reentry criteria set a path forward to reopening, but it could be tricky for many schools to meet the criteria yet this year. Little said Wednesday there is community spread of the virus in nearly every corner of the state. If he extends the statewide stay-home order again, beyond April 30, that would also prevent schools from reopening.
“This criterion is drafted as a very high bar,” Wilson said. “Something that we have been talking about is the board is going to have to closely monitor how the state comes out of the stay-home order at the end of this month, particularly when it comes to new social distancing requirements for certain nonessential businesses.”
Several school districts, including Boise, Blaine County, Pocatello and Middleton have already agreed to keep their school buildings closed for the rest of the year. But Madison School District Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas in Rexburg has said he wants to consider the reopening criteria and hopes to reopen this year.
Even in districts that keep their schools closed, remote learning is expected to continue, whether its via online learning or assignments that are picked up and dropped off.
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Tuition freeze enacted
In other action Thursday, the State Board made the tuition freeze official.
Board members voted unanimously to keep the cost of in-state resident tuition and fees flat for 2020-21.
Here’s the breakdown:
- University of Idaho: $8,304.
- Boise State University: $8,060, a decrease of $8 from the current year due to a fee decrease.
- Idaho State University: $7,782.
- Lewis-Clark State College: $6,982.
Board members also voted to keep the cost of dual credit courses flat at $75 per credit hour next year.
The Board did approve some increases for University of Idaho’s law and architectural programs. Nonresident tuition is increasing by 2 percent at Idaho State and Lewis-Clark next year.
Although the tuition freeze was announced in 2019, Critchfield praised the college and university presidents for coming together to make it happen, especially in light of the recent coronavirus disruptions and University of Idaho’s financial woes.
“A tuition freeze, and I know we talked about this earlier at the start of the year, was no small feat,” Critchfield said. “There has been some good work done here for students.”
Finally, the State Board voted unanimously to re-elect Critchfield as its president for the upcoming year. Board member Andrew Scoggin was elected vice president and Kurt Liebich was elected secretary.
Confirmed cases update
At its 5 p.m. update Thursday, the state was reporting 1,609 COVID-19 cases and 41 deaths.
That’s an increase of 22 cases from Wednesday afternoon.
This week, the state started included lab confirmed and probable cases in its case tally. Previously, it was reporting confirmed cases.
There are confirmed cases in 32 of Idaho’s 44 counties.
Counties with the most cases include Ada (548), Blaine (467), Canyon (179 ), Twin Falls (89) and Kootenai (49).