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District 91 School Board votes on how to begin school this fall

Education

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Elizabeth Cogliati, member of the District 91 Board of Trustees, thinking heavily before placing her vote in the proposed plan for the upcoming school year. | Screenshot

IDAHO FALLS — When school starts in Idaho Falls School District 91 later this month, all students will attend Monday through Thursday, and learn from home on Friday.

The new schedule was developed and adopted by the D91 school board following a lengthy public hearing Wednesday night at Compass Academy.

More than two dozen members of the community spoke during the hearing, some expressing strong support for the district’s initial enrollment plan, which including a variety of safety measures to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

“While learning deficits can possibly be corrected, the health and safety of our students, their families, teachers, school staff, once compromised, cannot be made right again,” said Dan Warner, a parent of a child at Longfellow Elementary School.

John Thomas, another D91 parent, told the board the country is close to a vaccine, and they should hold off.

“We need to take a step back,” he said. “We need to decide that opening schools is not a good idea.”

Others were vehemently opposed to the plan. Some of the public who spoke at the hearing believed COVID-19 is a conspiracy, or that wearing masks is some kind of hoax. One individual compared the situation to Nazi Germany and another individual asserted that online learning would lead to drug and pornography addiction. Most of the commenters, though, were parents who simply believed the COVID-19 precautions placed restrictions on their students’ academic growth or sporting opportunities.

Zane Pearson addressing the school board. | Screenshot

“I see that fall sports need to happen, plain and simple. … Pulling the plug on our youth is not the answer,” said Oakley Hussey, a recent high school graduate.

Brigham Young University-Idaho child development professor Kynda Roberts emphasized the importance of face-to-face interaction between students, their peers and teachers. Similarly, Jenna Hancock, the mother of a D91 student, told the board that interactions with coaches and other students during sporting events saved her child.

“When he called me one day and told me he was dropping out of high school, it was his coaches and sports friends who kept him there,” Hancock said. “Please don’t take that away.”

Jimmie Scrogum was in the unique position of having just recovered from COVID-19.

“Everybody in this room has anxiety and depression from COVID,” Scrogum said. “That doesn’t mean you stop life because of fear.”

RELATED | District 91 asking parents, staff for feedback regarding its plan to reopen

The original District 91 plan worked hand-in-hand with the Eastern Idaho Public Health’s Regional COVID-19 Response Plan. It was split into a three-level, green-yellow-and-red system.

Under the green phase, all students would attend school five days a week. In the yellow phase, students with last names from A-K would go to school on Monday and Wednesday, with the rest attending on Tuesday and Thursday, with some learning labs or interventions on Fridays. The red phase would involve all students learning at home through online programs all week.

Since Bonneville County is currently in the moderate risk category of the EIPH COVID-19 plan, the district would have started at the yellow level later this month.

Parents also have the option to enroll their children in the district’s Online Academy before Aug. 19 if they don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school at all. This option allows students to learn completely from home while getting support from D91 and nationally recognized leaders. To register or find more information, visit www.ifschools.org.

The Board of Trustees meeting to vote on the upcoming school year. | Screenshot

Following the hearing, the board discussed the issue. Board trustee Paul Haacke argued that the school board should be the final say on when a school shifts from one phase to another, and not “as determined by Eastern Idaho Regional Public Health’s regional COVID-19 Response Plan and/or absenteeism among students and staff” as the plan stated.

Haacke moved that the board approved the phase plan with the following amendments:

  • The risk level would be determined ultimately by the school board based on information from the Eastern Idaho Regional Public Health’s Regional COVID-19 Response Plan and other circumstances.
  • Whether masks are mandatory in the classroom is determined by the teacher.
  • A fourth phase is created that would go between the green phase and the yellow phase. This phase would have all students attend school Monday through Thursday, with at-home learning on Friday. All other aspects of this phase would be the same as the green phase, except take-home lunches would be offered for Fridays, just as they would be in the yellow phase.
    • For clarity, the board referred to this plan as the “blue” phase, even though that name may be changed in the official plan.
  • This includes the special COVID-19 leave plan for the District 91 staff.

His motion was seconded and it passed in a 3-to-2 vote.

Haacke made another motion stating that the district would begin the school year in this new “blue” phase and amended that it would plan to stay in the blue phase for six weeks unless conditions change that would require a board meeting to discuss other alternatives. That motion also passed in a 3-to-2 vote.

Larry Wilson of the board made a motion that Superintendent George Boland should have the authority to close one school for COVID-19 related reasons for one day without approval of the board. If multiple schools need to be closed, or if a longer closure was required, it would need the approval of the board.

The board unanimously approved this motion as well as the district’s athletics and activities plan. Practices for fall sports officially began this week, though fees will be collected at a later date when the district has a better idea of what the season will look like.

“As board members, we are committed to and entrusted with making the decisions about what is best for the students and staff of Idaho Falls District 91,” Board Chairwoman Lara Hill said to the public. “Each and every board member takes this role very seriously.”

The hearing and board deliberations can be viewed in their entirety here.

RELATED | Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 starting school year with ‘soft opening’

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