A group of Treasure Valley area superintendents sent a letter to State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra last week, raising concerns that her proposed legislation to prioritize in-person learning “usurps” school districts’ autonomy.
Ybarra said earlier this year that she would introduce legislation to make “in-person learning the general rule” and limit interruptions to “emergencies only.”
That bill has not yet been submitted for legislative consideration, but a group of superintendents from Homedale, Nampa, Caldwell and Emmett reviewed a draft copy and raised concerns it could have “unintended consequences by dictating a one-size fits all approach.”
“This proposal usurps the control of locally elected school boards to respond nimbly to emergencies, ties the hands of our hardworking educators, and limits options for our students,” the Region III School Superintendents’ Association wrote.
The group raised specific concerns that:
- The draft bill’s broad definition of “emergency” could force schools to provide in-school instruction during dangerous situations.
- It could jeopardize access to specialized online courses for students who don’t have access to those classes in person.
- It would rob choice from students who want to learn remotely for health, travel or other reasons.
Superintendent Ybarra replied to the administrators on Tuesday, and said she had slightly revised the text of the bill.
“The COVID crisis of 2020 demonstrated the need for a general rule indicating that ‘in-person instruction,’ where offered, should be the preferred educational alternative in Idaho,” she wrote. She directly addressed eight of the superintendents’ concerns, from its perceived impacts on local control to student choice.
Ybarra wrote that the word “emergency” is defined broadly to encompass a number of situations, and that the bill doesn’t require districts to create new in-person classes or expand or reduce remote learning, which would still be at the discretion of school districts.
The bill is an attempt to “protect in-person instruction in future emergency situations,” Ybarra wrote, while leaving “relevant decisions” in the hands of superintendents.
“I remain committed to my local government philosophy as expressed last fall,” she wrote. “This is policy, not usurpation.”
Rob Sauer, Superintendent of the Homedale School District, said Wednesday that the Region III superintendents had not yet had a chance to meet and discuss Ybarra’s reply — and amended proposal — to determine if it addressed their concerns.
The most recent draft of Ybarra’s proposed legislation, provided by the State Department of Education, is below: