By Shawn Keough
Special to the Reader
The first day of school for students in the Lake Pend Oreille School District is just about five weeks away. Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho State Board of Education have a framework plan in place for local school officials statewide to use as guidance to reopen public schools in a safe manner that fits local circumstances.
The Idaho Back to School Framework sets expectations, establishes guidelines and best practices for school districts and charter schools to use this fall and to plan for actions, should they become necessary, based on local public health conditions.
The framework was developed by a team of school administrators, educators, public health officials and lawmakers. It is not a top-down approach. Our public schools are governed locally and the State Board believes decisions about reopening schools should be made by elected school district and charter school trustees with input from parents and educators.
More than 300,000 students are educated in our public schools across the state. Their learning was severely disrupted last spring by the coronavirus pandemic and the State Board believes we must do everything possible to get students back on track and in-person instruction is the best way to do that.
Gov. Little supports this.
“Before coronavirus, too many Idaho students faced a significant achievement gap and ongoing risks to their mental and social well-being,” he said. “It’s imperative that students return to the classrooms and interact directly with their teachers and classmates at the end of the summer.”
Northern Idaho is a long way from southern Idaho and the virus is more active in places like Ada County than it is in Bonner County. The folks who developed the framework took this into account while recognizing that circumstances can change — and quickly.
Recommendations are organized into three categories based on the level of coronavirus transmission going on in various regions and communities at any given time. Take, for example, a school located in rural Idaho where no community spread is occurring. School leaders there will use the framework guidance listed in Category 1 to open and operate their schools fairly normally.
In other places, where there is community spread (as determined by local public health officials), school leaders will look to the guidance listed under Category 3 and use that to help them make decisions about whether in-person instruction can occur, perhaps combined with virtual alternatives.
We’ve posted the Idaho Back to School framework on the State Board of Education website: boardofed.idaho.gov/resources/idaho-back-to-school-framework-2020/
The framework is supported by a State Department of Education website with resources for parents, educators, school districts and charter schools. New resources will be added regularly. Here’s the link: sde.idaho.gov/re-opening/index.html#.
Take some time to look over both the framework and the State Department of Education website. I also encourage you to visit with your local school board members and school administrators and let them know your thoughts and offer input on the district’s reopening plan.
2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for public education in Idaho and throughout the country. Our local school boards, administrators and teachers moved quickly to transform our system from in-person instruction to various distance learning options in a short period of time.
Many of our students handled the disruption just fine, but we also know that many did not. We have to do all we can to help our students make up for lost ground, but we have to do it safely.
That is at the heart of the guidance set forth in the framework. We want to open our schools responsibly and to be prepared to take proper actions should local public health conditions warrant a change in course.
Shawn Keough is a member of the Idaho State Board of Education and served in the Idaho Senate representing District 1 from 1996 to 2018 — the longest-serving female legislator in state history. She served 18 years on the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, including three years as co-chair. She also served five years on the Senate Education Committee. She is currently executive director of the Associated Logging Contractors, an organization with which she has worked since 2000.
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