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Idaho teachers adjust class strategies during pandemic

Andi Arnold’s English classroom at Caldwell High School resembles a coffee shop more than a classroom.

When the pandemic hit Idaho, Arnold knew she would have to make many changes to her classroom setup. She got rid of all her fabric furniture, replacing it with leather and vinyl couches and chairs, and spread out the seats at the expense of her own teaching space.

Arnold, like many other teachers in Idaho, has made many adjustments to her teaching practices since the pandemic began. Teachers now have the added responsibility of showing their students how to stay safe at school from COVID-19. Arnold said most of the first day the students spent back in the classroom dealt with going over the new protocols for her class.

Jason Green, math teacher for Gateways Elementary and Secondary School in Nampa, also spent his first days with his students showing them how to stay safe in his classroom. Gateways is an alternative school that admits students with special needs, and Green said he has to regularly remind his students of the new rules, at least once a day.

Most of Arnold’s students are seniors, so she said she rarely needs to remind them about wearing their masks properly or social distancing. She said she more commonly corrects students about social distancing in the hallways, but the students always comply.

Caldwell High School changed its class schedule in response to the pandemic, reducing the seven-period days to five periods. In addition to adjusting her lesson plans to fit the new schedule, Arnold said she also spends the final few minutes of every period spraying disinfectant on every surface students touch, and even uses her students to help her identify surfaces to clean. She’s gone through two bottles of high-grade disinfectant already this year.

Green’s students are instructed to stay at their desks for the entire class period, which are also spaced across the classroom. Several of Green’s previous lessons have involved interactive tools like fraction graph pieces, but Green said he’s adjusted these lessons because he can’t use those tools anymore.

Much of Green’s regular curriculum relies on group work, which also isn’t possible now. He said he tries to make up for this by reviewing how to solve problems more consistently with his students, but it is challenging for some students without the exploration they get from working with their peers.

“It’s easier for some kids to learn from each other than from their teachers,” Green said.

Caldwell High School returned to remote learning Oct. 21 after an outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in more than 14% of the high school staff needing to quarantine, and the school did not have enough substitute teachers to fill the gap. The high school returned to hybrid learning Nov. 2.

Arnold said she cried when she found out the high school was returning to remote learning. She said she loves getting to see her students in the classroom, and she knows her students get a lot of their time at school. But she said she understood the decision, and she doesn’t want her students in an unsafe environment.

After the school returned to hybrid, Arnold said she spent time during the students’ first day back in class going over the safety protocols again. She said she hasn’t had any major issues with her students disobeying the rules, as most students want to be in school and know that following the rules is the best way to ensure their school stays open.

“They want to be part of the solution,” Arnold said.

The count goes on — with Biden on the cusp of presidency

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Democrat Joe Biden stood on the cusp of winning the presidency Friday night, three days after Election Day, as the long, exacting work of counting votes widened his lead over President Donald Trump in critical battleground states.

High turnout, a massive number of mail-in ballots and slim margins between the two candidates all contributed to the delay in naming a winner. But Biden held leads in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia, putting him in an ever-stronger position to capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House.

There was intense focus on Pennsylvania, where Biden led Trump by more than 27,000 votes, and Nevada, where the Democrat led by about 22,000. The prolonged wait added to the anxiety of a nation facing historic challenges, including the surging pandemic and deep political polarization.

Biden was at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as the vote count continued, and aides said he would address the nation late in the evening. Trump stayed in the White House and out of sight, as more results trickled in and expanded Biden’s lead in must-win Pennsylvania. In the West Wing during the day, televisions remained tuned to the news amid trappings of normalcy, as reporters lined up for coronavirus tests and outdoor crews worked on the North Lawn on a mild, muggy fall day.

Trump’s campaign was mostly quiet — a dramatic difference from the day before, when officials held a morning call projecting confidence and then a flurry of press conferences announcing litigation in key states.

A handful of states remained in play Friday evening — Georgia, North Carolina too early to call along with Pennsylvania and Nevada. In all four states the margins between Trump and Biden were too narrow and the number of ballots left to be counted too great for the AP to declare a victor.

In Pennsylvania, officials were not allowed to begin processing mail-in ballots until Election Day under state law. In Nevada, there were a number of provisional ballots cast by voters who registered on Election Day, and officials had to verify their eligibility. And recounts could be triggered in both Pennsylvania and Georgia.

With his pathway to reelection appearing to greatly narrow, Trump was testing how far he could go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in the vote.

On Thursday, he advanced unsupported accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to seize power. It was an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president to sow doubt about the democratic process.

“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room.

He took to Twitter late Friday to pledge further legal action, tweeting that “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!”

Trump did claim that he won late on Election Night. He also tweeted that he had “such a big lead in all of these states late into election night, only to see the leads miraculously disappear as the days went by,” although it was well known that votes cast before Tuesday were still being legally counted.

Biden spent Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing, he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”

“I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the United States of America.”

Trump’s erroneous claims about the integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from rank-and-file members of the GOP. That was especially true for those who are eyeing presidential runs of their own in 2024.

Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential presidential hopeful who has often criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”

But others who are rumored to be considering a White House run of their own in four years aligned themselves with the incumbent, including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who tweeted support for Trump’s claims, writing that “If last 24 hours have made anything clear, it’s that we need new election integrity laws NOW.”

Trump’s campaign engaged in a flurry of legal activity, saying it would seek a recount in Wisconsin and had filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.

On Friday evening, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito approved a GOP request ordering county boards to comply with state guidance to keep the late ballots separate from those received before or on Election Day. However, Alito did not direct election officials to stop counting the ballots, as the Republicans had also sought.

But judges in three states quickly swatted down legal action. A federal judge who was asked to stop vote counts in Philadelphia instead forced the two sides to reach an agreement without an order over the number of observers allowed.

“Really, can’t we be responsible adults here and reach an agreement?” an exasperated U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond said during an emergency hearing Thursday evening. “The whole thing could (soon) be moot.”

The Trump campaign said it was confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona, where votes were also still being counted, including in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous area. The AP has declared Biden the winner in Arizona and said Thursday that it was monitoring the vote count as it proceeded.

“The Associated Press continues to watch and analyze vote count results from Arizona as they come in,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor. “We will follow the facts in all cases.”

Idaho health districts overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, making contact tracing difficult

BOISE — The number of new COVID-19 cases in Idaho has made it impossible for four public health districts to do complete contact tracing.

South Central Public Health District, Central District Health, Southwest District Health and the Panhandle Health District have case backlogs and delays, preventing their disease investigation teams from contacting all new reported cases or those cases’ close contacts.

“The reality we are facing is that levels of community transmission are making the critical work of investigation and contact tracing diluted. Simply put, we need the cooperation of our community members to do all they can to reduce their risk and protect themselves, their loved ones and fellow community members,” Panhandle district spokeswoman Katherine Hoyer said in a statement.

With the recent increase in cases, health districts have been forced to prioritize calls by age, focusing on people most at risk for severe symptoms and those most likely to spread the disease.

Southwest District Health officials and Central District Health officials are asking people in their counties, including Canyon and Ada, to reduce their time in public spaces, wear masks and keep their distance from others.

“These sacrifices are critical to getting back to a more manageable case rate for our communities and protecting our most vulnerable residents,” stated Russ Duke, Central District Health director.

This week alone, Ada County will break a record number of COVID-19 cases with more than 1,500 new positives. Elmore County is seeing high rates of disease, with a case rate of 35 per 100,000 population in the rural county. Southwest District Health has seen 200 new cases reported per day, nearly tripling disease investigators caseloads with no new staff.

“We desperately need the community’s help to dial back the numbers. The investigations team is doing our very best to keep up with the demand, including working overtime, but with the drastic increase in positive cases in such a short time, we need the help of the public to try to keep the cases down,” said Jaime Aanensen, Environmental and Community Health Division Administrator for Southwest District Health.