By Ben Olson
The Idaho State Board of Education voted Monday, April 6 to extend the soft closure of all public school buildings in the state through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. The board voted for the plan unanimously, also establishing a condition that local school districts will retain the option to reopen their schools if local social distancing orders are lifted and districts meet a set of criteria which will be determined by the board at the meeting next week.
“We respect locally elected trustees to make decisions and their role in making decisions in their areas,” State Board President Debbie Critchfield said during the online SBE meeting. “I just want to emphasize that in the motion is the word ‘or.’ So this will provide some flexibility and an opportunity for local districts to be able to make those decisions.”
A soft closure means prohibiting instruction of students in school buildings, but allows school districts to continue distance learning, as well as distributing meals to students.
Shawn Keough, who formerly represented District 1 as Idaho State Senator for 22 years and serves as a SBE board member said the board has met weekly since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Keough said a sub-committee of SBE members have held daily conference calls with participation from State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, the Idaho Education Association, school district trustees, superintendents and even Gov. Brad Little.
“As an individual Board member my perspective is that many professionals from across the state are working on the criteria and the foundation is to be tied to only opening the buildings if the local medical professionals at the local health districts determine it is safe to do so,” Keough wrote to the Reader. “There is also concern about determining delivery of lessons to finish out the year online or through materials picked up at the schools recognizing that urban and rural districts and their families face very different challenges.”
LPOSD superintendent Tom Albertson said he believed this decision was made to protect the health of students and staff.
“The health of students, staff and the community will always be the most important factor in any decision made on the duration of ‘distance learning,’” Albertson told the Reader. “The reopening of schools will not be considered until the social distancing order is lifted in our community.”
Albertson said the decision was not an “educational decision, but a health decision made by the health experts and Governor’s office.”
“While the buildings have been closed, teachers, support staff, administrators, school board members have been working every day – 7 days a week – to completely retool delivery of learning both online and materials for pick up, delivery of food, and to be available to students and families,” Keough wrote to the Reader. “This is no easy task. It would be an error to believe that the work of our school personnel and our administrative staff and school board members has stopped. Quite the opposite, they’ve risen to this challenge and double down the best they can individually and as districts to try to provide some level of continuity of service. … I personally appreciate the work and sacrifices of their personal and family time to serve and know that each member of the SBOE does as well.”
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