School is set to resume Wednesday in the West Ada School District, after two massive teachers’ sick days forced the state’s largest district to abruptly close school Monday and Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a group of parents filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the West Ada Education Association, seeking to prevent future sickouts.
Beginning Wednesday, West Ada will implement the hybrid learning plan the school board approved last week. District spokeswoman Char Jackson confirmed school will resume Wednesday, with students in Team 2 attending in-person. The other half of the students, those on Team 1, will have in-person learning Thursday. From there, the schedule will continue alternating each day.
“West Ada School District is committed to balancing in-person learning, the safety of its students and teachers and COVID-19 protocols,” the district wrote in a note to parents. “Over the past few days, the focus has been specifically working with the West Ada Education Association to find a solution that would ensure teachers feel safe and allow school to take place on Monday and Tuesday. Those efforts were not successful, but teachers have assured us that school will happen on Wednesday.”
West Ada officials said they are working to address concerns from teachers and staff. The district has partnered with David Pate, the retired president and CEO of St Luke’s Health System. Pate is evaluating the district’s reopening and health and safety plans.
Pate submitted a draft of the report this week and is scheduled to meet virtually with teachers Thursday. His final draft should be ready for trustees Friday. He will present his findings and recommendations to the board Tuesday, Jackson said.
A district leadership team comprising Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells, Assistant Superintendent Bret Heller and human resources director Dave Roberts met in person with teachers union leaders Monday morning to discuss concerns from both sides, Jackson said. Eric Thies and Luke Franklin from the Idaho Education Association represented the union.
School district officials said the talks did not result in a solution, but the two sides agreed school would resume Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Freedom Foundation announced that a group of parents has sued the West Ada Education Association, alleging the sickout was an illegal union strike.
Parent Roy Ratliff and four other anonymous parents filed the lawsuit in Fourth Judicial District Court Tuesday, according to documents posted by the-Chicago based Liberty Justice Center, which is representing the parents.
The parents want the sickout declared an illegal strike and the courts to prevent the West Ada Education Association from doing it again.
“I have three young kids in West Ada schools and they are reeling from yet another disappointment this week,” Ratliff said in a written statement released by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “The sudden changes in school are leaving my kids and others with emotional and academic anxiety. It is time for adults to be leaders and put our kids first.”
Last week, the West Ada Education Association asked teachers to request sick days en masse — first for Monday and then again for Tuesday — to protest the district approving a hybrid in-person learning plan. Last week, Central District Health moved West Ada schools to its highest COVID-19 exposure and risk classification, but said hybrid learning could continue.
For Monday, 652 of the district’s 2,145 classroom teachers requested sick days.
For Tuesday, 440 teachers requested sick days.
For Wednesday, the district was back down to what Jackson described as a normal amount of sick days.
The district has 215 active substitute teachers.
Idaho Education News has reached out to Thies for comment and will update this story when he responds.
West Ada serves more than 38,000 K-12 students.
IEA launches anonymous health safety and safety line
The IEA launched a hotline that teachers can call to report health and safety violations.
In a news release, IEA leaders said teachers could use the hotline to anonymously report violations of safety protocols, inability to social distance, a lack of disinfectant, violations of mask mandates and more.
“Since school buildings reopened, we have heard reports from educators in many areas of the state about breakdowns in safety protocols and COVID-19 transparency,” IEA President Layne McInelly said in a written statement. “Many of them are requesting anonymity because of concerns about retribution.”
Once a report is collected, IEA leaders said they will share it, when appropriate, with public education decisionmakers.