West Ada approves in-person learning on alternating days for all grades

Heritage Middle School science teacher Christen Sapnas works with West Ada students in a school science lab in early October. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

The West Ada School Board voted to move all grade levels to in-person learning on alternating days beginning Monday. The decision sets up a potential conflict with teachers as a massive sickout with more than 700 teachers planning to call in sick is in the works for Monday.

Board members made the move to an alternating schedule for elementary, middle and high school grade levels after Central District Health officials moved the district to the red COVID-19 risk classification system Tuesday.

CDH uses a three-tier, color-coded system of green, yellow and red, with red representing the highest level of COVID-19 exposure and risk.

Trustee Rene Ozuna pushed the plan. She described it as a compromise between responding to staff safety concerns and student learning needs.

“We are taking steps to make sure that our safety protocols are working and they are being addressed,” Ozuna said. “That said, we also don’t know that our technology will support all of our students being 100 precent remote.”

The board voted 3-1 to approve the move, with trustee Amy Johnson casting the lone vote in opposition and Steve Smylie abstaining.

The state published nonbinding school reopening guidance this summer. Local school boards are empowered to develop their own local plans after consulting with a regional health district.

In guidance attached to moving West Ada to red, CDH officials said they support schools operating with some level of in-person instruction in the red risk category, for now.

CDH also said all school programs should operate with physical distancing in place, with at least six feet between individuals or students placed in independently spaced groups of three to five students.

“These should be in place consistently throughout the instruction day for in-person operations, including before and after school, classrooms, mealtimes and at recess or breaks,” CDH officials wrote.

But this might not be possible, Assistant Superintendent Bret Heller told trustees Thursday.

“We are not going to be able to guarantee that consistent physical distancing in every situation across all of our buildings,” Heller said.

“Which does mean — and we have learned this from other districts that are doing in-person learning — the less physical distancing you can put in place, the more students and staff are going to have to quarantine because of close contact.”

It’s not clear how the district will respond Monday if hundreds of teachers call in sick. The board did not take specific action related to the sickout, though the situation was discussed at length.

“We have been told that if we are anything more than full remote on Monday that that sickout, if you will, would go forward as planned,” Heller told the board.

At last check, more than 700 teachers had already requested sick days for Monday. Of those absences, 550 were unfilled, Heller said.

“It is significant and it’s to the point where it’s more than we are going to be able to cover with subs as of right now.”

Neuhoff appointed chairman

In other action Thursday, the board shuffled its ranks and appointed trustee Philip Neuhoff as chairman.

Ed Klopfenstein abruptly resigned as chairman late Tuesday night following a four-hour discussion of West Ada’s response to the pandemic. Klopfenstein retained his school board seat, attended Thursday’s meeting at the district office in person and voted.

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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