Parents and teachers who addressed the West Ada school board about reopening plans Thursday night came out on opposite sides of the debate.
Teachers asked the board to err on the side of protecting students’ lives. They want trustees to follow the guidance of Central District Health, which advises West Ada to operate schools remotely to protect students and staff from high community transmission of COVID-19.
Most non-teacher parents pleaded for schools to reopen. Parents can already opt for online school, they said, and their children deserve the chance to go back.
“No choices that are made for other people’s kids should have any bearing on the choices that I make for my children and vice versa,” parent Ashley Morrison said.
Thursday’s public testimony, broadcast on the West Ada website, represented only a small slice of the comments submitted to trustees. Only 45 parents were admitted to the in-person meeting, but more than 400 submitted written comments, board chairman Ed Klopfenstein said.
Trustees in the state’s largest district plan to make a decision on reopening schools for the district’s 40,000 students next Tuesday. West Ada will be the last of the large Treasure Valley districts to do so, after delaying the start of school two weeks to Sept. 8.
“We’ve talked enough as a board, tonight we want to hear from you,” Klopfenstein said.
Parents who support a full reopening cited the importance of in-person learning and physical activity. They raised concerns about children’s isolation and mental health needs, if students have to spend more time away from friends. A survey conducted for Idaho Education News this summer found that 81 percent of Idaho parents plan to send their kids back to school this fall if schools reopen.
“If we keep the bodies safe but lose the minds and hearts, have we really served the best interest of the child?” said parent Katie Ingersoll Ipsen.
Teachers told trustees that they’d love to be back in school, but cited the recommendations from local health experts.
Middle school teacher Nerissa Armstrong told trustees that they are responsible for making “tough choices” in students’ best interest, much as she has to tell kids not to send Snapchats in the middle of class. Of course, students and teachers want to be back in buildings together, Armstrong said, but Ada County has some of the state’s highest coronavirus transmission rates. Middle schoolers are like “petri-dishes,” she said.
“Please be the grownups in this room, in this county. Don’t be swayed by the eye-rolling and the loud voices, do what’s right for our kids,” Armstrong said. “We’re not going to be online forever, but do what’s right for them right now.”
Special education teacher Nick Elliot asked trustees to keep his students in mind as they deliberate. Elliot’s students often need help blowing their noses. They struggle to cough or sneeze into their elbows, can’t or won’t wear masks and need hands-on help for learning, eating and washing their hands.
“All this together makes me worried for the safety of my students and the many students like them in other classrooms in the district,” Elliot said. “If we return to schools in person, these students’ safety cannot be guaranteed.”
Also spotted at Thursday’s meeting: a masked microphone.
Trustees asked parents to wear masks while testifying at the shared microphone. They provided a box of masks next to the mic. The rule was haphazardly followed. After more than one speaker used the microphone without a mask, Klopfenstein asked participants to at least put a mask on the microphone so it wouldn’t be a “COVID-device.”