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Idaho, neighboring states advise against travel as Thanksgiving nears

BOISE — With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Idahoans considering traveling out of state face myriad travel restrictions due to COVID-19 that vary by state, some with big potential fines, while Idaho’s newest public health order has no travel restrictions at all.

Nevertheless, Idahoans are being strongly advised not to travel this Thanksgiving.

“It is not safe to have gatherings with people who don’t live with you,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. “We advise against traveling for the holidays, or having guests travel here.”

Among Idaho’s direct neighbors, Washington and Oregon have newly enacted 14-day quarantine advisories for anyone entering the state, and Canada’s still not letting Americans in, with very limited exceptions that include quarantine requirements. Utah has no travel restrictions, but is currently limiting all gatherings to household members under a state of emergency.

Every state neighboring Idaho except Wyoming currently has a statewide mask mandate aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19; 35 states now have such requirements, with the latest addition of North Dakota on Saturday, according to the AARP.

Oregon, Washington and California all announced their travel advisories on Friday, calling on anyone entering their states to quarantine for 14 days. Nationwide, 19 states and the District of Columbia have travel restrictions or quarantine requirements. Alaska has a $25,000 fine for those who don’t comply with requirements for a negative COVID-19 test or 14-day quarantine; Hawaii’s is $5,000. Eight states have fines or other penalties for travelers who don’t comply, including New Mexico, Kansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and in Illinois, Chicago, that state’s largest city.

While New Mexico doesn’t have a fine on the books, its statewide executive order says those entering the state from “states deemed high-risk based on COVID-positivity rates” must quarantine for two weeks, emerging only to receive medical care. Those who don’t comply “shall be subject to involuntary isolation or quarantine.”

While states vary in how they define high-risk areas, with some targeting specific county-by-county rates and others identifying broad swaths of states as high-risk, Idaho makes the bad list in nearly every state with restrictions. Idaho’s most recent statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 testing was 16.9% on Nov. 7, according to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, and it’s been on the increase.

According to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, on Monday, Idaho ranked 15th highest in the nation for new cases per capita in the past seven days, and 10th highest for deaths per capita. On both counts, North Dakota ranked first, and Hawaii last. Idaho’s seven-day rolling average of new cases per capita was nearly three times the national rate.

The Oregon, Washington and California travel restrictions apply to all travelers from out-of-state, with only limited exceptions.

“We’re not going to have any border patrols,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference on Sunday. But he decried Idaho for imposing fewer COVID-19 restrictions, when people travel freely between the bordering states, particularly in North Idaho. “I have urged the Idaho leaders to show some leadership,” he said, calling the repeal of a Kootenai County mask mandate last month “just irresponsible.”

Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho, said, “We understand that people have this pent-up desire to reunite after months of separation, but you still have to be cognizant of what that can mean for everybody’s health and safety.”

The motorists’ group has published a nationwide map of coronavirus restrictions, including travel restrictions, at AAA.com/covidmap.

“What we’re saying is that with the situation being as dynamic as it is, unless you can safely execute on some sort of a travel bubble that’s going to keep you safe everywhere you go, it’s just really difficult to do right now,” Conde said. “This year, we’re not recommending that people travel.”

AAA is forecasting a 10% drop in travel volume for the Thanksgiving holiday, with 95% of people traveling only by car and for much shorter distances than usual.

Brandon Atkins, epidemiologist with Central District Health, said, “We do not recommend traveling during this heightened risk. We recommend that people only be sharing Thanksgiving with people in their immediate household, and not to be traveling.”

He noted, “Ada County right now is going through the roof as far as our rate. We don’t recommend that people come into our jurisdiction, because we have a high prevalence.”

As of Sunday, Ada County was reporting 21,561 COVID-19 cases to date, more than 4,000 of those new in the past two weeks. The county’s seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 population was at 46.9; for the pandemic to date, it was 4,477.1.

Both Ada and Canyon counties have seen their total case numbers double since August.

Atkins said, “If you need to have a family get-together, you have to connect digitally. I think that’s going to be best: Play games, enjoy, spend time together, but don’t put people at unnecessary risk. We want our family members who we love and care about to make it through this holiday season without an additional risk of COVID.”

Thousands of Idaho students are ‘no-shows’ this year, almost twice as many as in years past

{img src=”http://jspt.itjon.com/ienjspixel.php?l=http://idahopress.com&o=www.idahoednews.org/news/thousands-of-students-are-no-shows-this-year-almost-twice-as-many-as-in-years-past/” /}Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on November 16, 2020NAMPA — Children’s sweatshirts dangled from the fence around the duplex on the corner, their sleeves blowing in the October wind.

The two-car driveway was full, hinting someone might be home. But when Principal Chance Whitmore rang the bell, he got no answer.

A Rottweiler in the front yard barked tirelessly at the school administrators on his doorstep. Whitmore knocked. The dog paced. Whitmore knocked again.

West Middle School staff had visited this house before. The boy inside was expected to attend school this fall, but never finished the registration process. Calls to his family went unanswered. Then, weeks into the school year, his mother replied to an email.

West staff took the boy a laptop and set him up for classes. He made it to school online a few times, but when the school opened for hybrid learning in September, the boy missed repeated days of in-person instruction. Whitmore was at his house to see what was wrong.

Eight weeks into the school year, Whitmore and his administrative team were still knocking on doors, making sure they knew the whereabouts of every child they expected in classes this fall.

“There’s a lot of worries if we can’t run down a student. … Is the kid safe and warm and being fed? Are they getting educated?” Whitmore said. “Those are your hopes, but until you can confirm, you just don’t know.”

  • More than 11,600 students expected to return to Idaho’s public schools this fall never showed up, according to State Board of Education data.That’s nearly twice as many as the average in years past.

These “no-show” students may have moved out of Idaho. They might be homeschooling or going to a private school that doesn’t report data to the state. Or they could have just stopped attending school.

Idaho’s lax and decentralized enrollment tracking makes it nearly impossible to tell, from a state level, where these students have gone, or if they’re completing the education state law requires for 7- to 16-year-olds.

Local school districts often have a better idea of where these children are — but sometimes they don’t. District leaders tell Idaho Education News that each year there are students who don’t show up, and families they can’t reach. Districts don’t have to tell the state, or a child welfare agency, which of those students they are never able to find.

The fragmented accounting system raises concerns about the oversight of mandatory education, and child safety.

“If we don’t know who has fallen through the cracks, how do we even know to look for them?” said Harold Nevill, CEO of the Canyon Owyhee School Service Agency in Wilder.

‘No-show’ students are at risk of falling through the cracks

Attendance is the backbone of Idaho school funding, so districts are quick to count their kids at the start of each school year. They expect to see some degree of turnover after the summer. In the Bonneville School District, for example, around 750 to 1,000 students leave each year and 1,000 to 1,300 new students arrive, superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said.

Most students who leave are accounted for. Either they told the district they weren’t coming back, or the district got a student-record request from a new school, indicating that student enrolled elsewhere.

But that doesn’t always happen.

Some students don’t show up at the beginning of the year, and the school has no idea where they’ve gone. In those cases, Idaho leaves it up to each district to decide how far staff will go to track down that child.

This is different than a truancy situation, which happens if students stop attending during the school year. Unexcused absences typically prompt parent-administrator meetings, school discipline and even possible legal action against a parent. But because “no-shows” don’t ever start the school year, they don’t necessarily trigger these same procedures.

Idaho Education News spoke to school secretaries, principals and superintendents across the state about how they search for students who don’t return to school. All said they make some effort to reach families, at varying levels of intensity, and with varying levels of success.

Most school leaders call a student’s parents, then their emergency contacts. Sometimes they’ll do a home visit or send a school resource officer to check up.

“Districts are doing what they can with the resources they have,” said Karlynn Laraway, spokeswoman for the State Department of Education. “In the absence of something more specific in law, from the Legislature, I think districts are doing a lot.”

But educators can’t ever reach some families. Phone numbers change. Parents won’t answer the door when an administrator knocks. Or principals learn that a student doesn’t live at the address the school has on file.

There is no requirement that districts report these students to the state, or anyone else, for further follow-up.

Asked if Idaho needs a stronger accounting system to make sure these students are still getting an education, Laraway passed the question to lawmakers.

“That’s a question for legislators in balancing families’ rights to privacy and decisions about their children’s education — which the state values, you know, parent choice — and their obligation to inform schools,” she said.

As of late October, Vallivue School District administrators hadn’t been able to reach about 140 students. School administrators tried phone calls and sometimes home visits to reach these “no-shows,” said Assistant Superintendent Lisa Boyd. They didn’t hear back.

“There really isn’t a reporting process. It’s hard to decide — what do you do?” Boyd said. “We mark them in our system as a ‘no-show’ and we wait, see if someone calls us for their records eventually.”

The best-case scenario is that “no-show” students are learning from home, or have moved out of state, and records requests are delayed because of COVID-19.

They could also be working. Whitmore knows of middle-school students who have missed months of school to babysit siblings or help at a family business.

And they could have stopped attending school altogether.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, Mikala Stimmel decided she wasn’t going back to school at the Canyon Owyhee School Service Agency, or COSSA. Stimmel, 18, doesn’t want to take classes online. She’s working at a grocery store this fall and plans to test for her GED.

A few days into the school year, Stimmel says a COSSA staff member called her grandmother, to ask if Stimmel was going to school.

“I told her, ‘I’m not coming back,’ and then I kinda hung up on her,” Stimmel said. “She was going to try and talk me back into going there, and I was done.”

When a student doesn’t show up to COSSA in the fall, or leaves but doesn’t enroll in another district, Nevill’s staff will try to call them and sometimes make home visits. Staff members watch obituaries and county jail rosters for the students they worry about most.

Nevill has more than 30 students he considers “no-shows” this year, most of them super-seniors who didn’t finish school, but could still graduate. He knows some of them are in prison or working. He can’t reach the others.

“Does it concern us? Yeah. Not only on a human level, because you get attached to these kids and you wonder what happened to them, but we’re also accountable,” Nevill said. Students who “no-show” in high school can count against the school’s graduation rate.

COSSA has too many “no-shows” to chase each one, Nevill said. He focuses on students younger than 16, who are legally required to be in school.

Three months into the year, he’s still trying to find one 14-year-old. Nevill suspects the student, who has special education needs, is living in Boise with a relative. He doesn’t think she’s in school.

“It is certainly concerning that a special education student, who needs specialized help, is not getting that help,” he said.

In the worst-case scenarios, missing students could be in trouble: facing a crisis, or experiencing abuse or neglect at home.

“Once in a while there’s a kid who is really in trouble, really in trouble at home as a victim of physical or sexual or emotional abuse, and schools are their best chance of hope,” said Jodi Heilbrunn, director of the National Center for School Engagement.

Idaho has some of the most lax homeschool tracking in the nation

A lack of state data on homeschool students contributes to the confusion about where “no-shows” have gone.

Idaho is one of only 11 states that doesn’t require parents to notify anyone if they decide to homeschool, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. Even among those states, Idaho’s requirements are slim.

Indiana requires a minimum number of homeschool teaching days. Missouri requires parents to keep records of children’s work. Idaho’s only requirement is that homeschool parents teach “subjects commonly and usually taught in the public schools.” Idaho “does not regulate or monitor homeschool education,” the SDE’s website says in bold.

Idaho has no count of how many students are homeschooled across the state, making it difficult to say if “no-show” students have decided to learn from home. The state similarly does not regulate, or collect data on private school enrollment.

Idaho’s compulsory education law makes parents responsible for ensuring their child is educated. The SDE champions parents’ “freedom to chose the method of education that will work best for their children.”

But the state’s failure to collect data on non-public school enrollment leaves leaders without a comprehensive understanding of which educational options parents are choosing, or a means to track children who leave the public school system without telling schools where they’ve gone.

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield says COVID-19 has put a new emphasis on how Idaho accounts for students.

“It really has highlighted that we don’t have mechanisms in place, whether in a system for the state, or a local protocol, outside of what (districts) have done year to year,” Critchfield said.

“If we’re looking for positives during this pandemic, this really opens up a discussion on: Where are students year to year? Students that don’t come back — why is that?”

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Other states have developed more infrastructure Most of Idaho’s neighbors don’t require local schools to report “no-show” students. However, they all require parents to notify officials if they intend to homeschool.

Some states offer explicit guidelines for tracking “no-show” students.

Arkansas requires districts to assemble a diverse school outreach team to review “no-show” data and, do home visits and communicate with parents about what resources they might need.

Oregon asks schools to reach out to “no-shows” once every week “to either encourage attendance, or receive confirmation that the student has transferred or has withdrawn from school.”

In the absence of state policies, each Idaho district determines how to find its “no-show” students.

Weeks of outreach efforts pay off for Nampa educators

Whitmore, in Nampa, started the year with about 25 “no-shows” in his 600-student middle school. District leaders asked staff to keep trying to find these students, given the challenges families could be facing with COVID-19.

That’s standard practice at West, where three-quarters of students are low-income. Administrators work to keep up with families who move frequently if parents change jobs, change housing, or go to jail.

So, when a little boy in a corner duplex didn’t show up for school this fall, administrators kept reaching out until his mother replied. And on a blustery Monday in October, two months into the year, they waited for five minutes on her stoop until the woman came to the door.

The boy’s mother had been working a new night shift, she told administrators. She lost track of the days her son was supposed to be in school. But thank you so much for coming by.

“Have a great day,” Whitmore called to the family as he piled back into his red Ford pickup and went to find the next student.

Sometimes parents are grateful that the district is checking up on them, Whitmore said. Some are upset that administrators came to their homes. Others won’t open the door.

With weeks of repeated home visits, and the help of district SROs, West Middle School staff found out what happened with each of the two dozen “no-shows” on the fall enrollment list. They continue to follow up with students who have spotty attendance.

After a second stop, the administrators drove back toward West hopeful, but uncertain of the fruits of their efforts.

“If he gets off the bus and comes to school on Thursday … it’ll be mission accomplished at that point,” Whitmore said. “If not, we’re back to square one.”

  • A note on methodology: Idaho does not require districts to turn in a number of “no-show” students. The 11,600 students referenced in this report represents the number of students who were expected to return this fall, subtracting the number of students who actually had returned to schools by Oct. 30, 2020. The data was calculated by the State Board of Education at Idaho Education News’ request.

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    March Madness not coming to Boise in 2021 due to COVID-19

    There will be no March Madness in Boise in 2021.

    The NCAA announced Monday it plans to hold the entire 2021 men’s college basketball tournament in one geographic location to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 and is in talks with Indianapolis to be the host city.

    That means first and second round games previously scheduled at ExtraMile Arena in Boise will no longer happen.

    “We are obviously incredibly disappointed, but understand the decision to move the NCAA Tournament to a single geographic area for 2021,” interim Boise State athletic director Bob Carney said in a statement. “Boise State University, Boise State Athletics and the City of Boise were looking forward to once again showcasing one of the best tournament environments in the country, as we have done several times before.”

    This would have been Boise’s 10th time hosting the tournament, which in 2018 brought an estimated $15 million boost to the local economy, Boise State Public Radio reported.

    Boise’s position as host was in question before this week’s decision. The NCAA Board of Presidents faced calls to reconsider Boise as a host site after Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act took effect in July, banning transgender girls and women from playing school-sponsored sports on teams that match their gender identity. The board was scheduled to discuss its response in August but delayed a decision.

    The Final Four is already set to be held in Indianapolis next April and the NCAA has its headquarters in the Indiana capital.

    Early-round games had been scheduled in Boise and 12 other predetermined sites across the country with regionals in Minneapolis, Denver, Memphis, Tennessee, and New York City, with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

    The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee determined moving those to one location would allow a safe and controlled environment with venues, practice facilities, lodging and medical resources all near one another.

    “Trying to run an event of 68 teams, 67 games over the course of three weeks in a safe and responsible way really needed to be managed in a much controlled, singular environment,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told NCAA.com.

    “The committee has made a really sound decision here, disappointing as it is to go away from our valued hosts for 13 different sites from First Four through the regionals,” he said. “Condensing this to one geographic area that we can do it in a more safe and responsible way is where we need to be.”

    Future sites through 2026 have been announced, and the tournament is not scheduled to return to Boise during that time.

    Boise State University, which would have hosted the 2021 games, announced that tickets prepurchased for the tournament were through the NCAA, so Boise State’s ticket office is unable to process refunds. The NCAA will handle issuing those in the near future.

    The NCAA set a Nov. 25 start date for the season as it tries to bounce back from the two lucrative tournaments being canceled last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cancellation of the NCAA Tournament led to a $375 million shortfall in revenue distributed to member institutions, putting a huge strain on athletic departments across the country.

    Schools have scrambled to fill schedules while the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on college football, causing the cancellation of more than 60 games. Multiple basketball programs are currently on pause due to COVID-19 and the Ivy League announced last week the cancellation of winter sports, including men’s and women’s basketball.

    Gavitt said there is no plan to change the Nov. 25 start date and the plan is for the NCAA Tournament to be played in March and April as scheduled. No determination has been made on whether fans will be allowed, a decision that will also face individual conferences as their tournaments approach in March.

    NCAA President Mark Emmert earlier floated the idea of playing the NCAA Tournament in a bubble after the NBA and NHL managed to complete their seasons with similar setups.

    It might be a while before the women’s basketball committee decides what it wants to do with the tournament. Since 2015, the first two rounds have been played on home campuses of the top 16 seeds. Those aren’t known until Selection Monday, so there are no predetermined sites.

    The women’s Final Four next March is set for San Antonio and the regionals are supposed to be played in Albany, New York, Austin, Texas, Cincinnati and Spokane, Washington.

    AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg and Idaho Press reporter B.J. Rains contributed.