BOISE — Gov. Brad Little expects Idaho schools to reopen in the fall.
"The expectation is that schools will not be closed for an extended period of time," Little said during a press conference Thursday afternoon. "Before coronavirus, too many Idaho students faced a significant achievement gap and ongoing risks to their mental and social well-being. It’s imperative that students return to their classrooms and interact directly with their teachers and classmates at the end of the summer."
Little said decisions about school operations will be made at the local level, and the state will provide a framework to help guide these decisions. He added these recommendations are not "overly prescriptive, but it does set expectations for the fall."
- No community transmission: Traditional learning model, with school buildings open.
- Minimal to moderate transmission: Hybrid/blended learning model with limited or staggered use of school buildings, targeted closures or short-term to mid-term closures ranging from one to six weeks.
- Substantial community transmission: Full distance/remote learning with school buildings closed for extended periods of time longer than six weeks.
"It is certainly not an exhaustive blueprint of every eventuality that may occur. We don't know what things will be like in a few weeks or a few months from now, but we do believe that this a solid foundation whereby local boards and superintendents, getting together with their community expectations, can outline their own plans," Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said during Thursday's conference. "We're very optimistic and hopeful for the coming school year."
Idaho has 300,000 schoolkids in grades K-12, the Associated Press reports.
In order to ensure schools can resume in-person learning, Little said there needs to be a balancing act between meeting the needs of students and navigating public health challenges. However, before students return, cases need to decline statewide, he added.
"We cannot succeed in rebounding our economy and safely send children back to school if we do not individually and collectively take steps now to slow the spread of coronavirus in our communities," Little said. "Our personal actions are the single most important thing we can do to make this happen."
STAYING IN STAGE 4
For the second time, Idaho did not meet criteria to finish the governor's reopening plan; due to the recent increase in cases and other metrics, the state will remain at Stage 4 for at least another two weeks.
Since Tuesday Idaho has reported over 400 new cases per day, including 459 Thursday.
Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist, said in recent weeks the state has not only seen more cases overall and slightly among health care workers, but an increase hospitalizations — although people "aren't, in general, as severely ill as what we saw in the first wave." She added Idaho has about a 10-day supply of personal protective equipment available to hospitals, as well as more than 100 ICU beds and 40 ventilators.
Little said local public health and city officials are able to put in place more restrictive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in their specific community. The individual health districts, in conjunction with the associated school administration, also are able to reclose schools for in-person learning if cases continue to rise.
"You know the drill — wear a protective face covering in public, keep physical distancing six feet from others, wash your hands and stay home if you're sick," he added.