West Ada to start school online after Labor Day

Idaho’s largest school district will open with remote learning on Sept. 8, trustees said Tuesday night.

Trustee Philip Neuhoff

That plan is only for the first week of school in the West Ada district. Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells could move students back into school buildings in some kind of hybrid-learning format by Sept. 14, if the local health district recommends that approach.

An optimistic forecast from Central District Health significantly complicated the reopening discussion among trustees Tuesday night.

At the start of the meeting, CDH program manager Gina Pannell said the district is seeing a promising trend in cases. Right now, CDH recommends Ada County school districts open in a “red” designation, which calls for remote-learning and closure of school buildings. But, Pannell said, if cases continue to improve it is possible that CDH could soften that recommendation to “yellow” by Sept. 8. Yellow would allow districts to adopt a mix of in-person and distance learning.

Of course, that’s not a sure bet.

Trustee Philip Neuhoff argued the district needed to provide a semblance of stability  for teachers and parents who have to plan for the first few weeks of the school year. West Ada teachers are back at work on Wednesday, and until 9 p.m. on Tuesday didn’t know whether they needed to plan for lessons online or in person.

“We have to have something concrete,” Neuhoff said. “You can bet on futures and say: ‘well, things may get better,’ and I  hope they do… but we don’t know that’s going to happen.”

Neuhoff led the vote to start the year with remote learning. Trustees voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal after changing the plan from a guaranteed two weeks of online learning to a guarantee of online-learning for just the first week of school. What happens after that will depend on the spread of coronavirus in Ada County and whether CDH says it’s safe for kids to learn in person.

Hundreds of parents weighed in on the decision, in both written comments and in-person testimony at an earlier meeting. A vocal group spoke up in favor of reopening schools, but written testimony spanned the gamut.

  • “None of my children are willing or capable of wearing a mask.”
  • “School needs to go online for the first semester at least.”
  • “Time to totally return to school. No more stalling.”

West Ada was the last of the state’s largest districts to decide on a reopening plan. Trustees delayed the decision in early August and pushed their start date back to Sept 8, after the Labor Day weekend.

Boise trustees vote for staggered return, once CDH allows

Ada County’s second largest school district also voted on a plan for how to return to school, once Central District Health gives the green light.

Boise School District’s 25,000 students are learning online under Ada County’s “red” coronavirus risk designation. Once CDH decides the district is in “yellow” trustees will allow the staggered use of school buildings, trustees decided Tuesday.

The district will release more details on the phased return  to school approach once CDH decides to move to that “yellow” reopening category. Boise School District students who are enrolled in the online-school option will have to remain in online learning through the end of the semester.

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