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A joint legislative committee is pondering pushing for a special legislative session very soon – before Idaho schools reopen, which in some districts could be in as little as two and a half weeks. The House and Senate Judiciary committees met as a joint working group on Tuesday, and heard from an array of presenters about liability concerns with regard to schools, colleges and universities, and businesses in the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as from others concerned that limiting liability, particularly for long-term care facilities, could lead to unsafe practices and no accountability. The panel set its next meeting for Thursday morning, to review possible legislative proposals; you can read my full story here at (subscription required), or pick up tomorrow’s print edition of the Idaho Press..

“School districts and charter schools are in a unique position, because not only do we have staff to consider but we also have little people in our buildings, young students,” Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, told the lawmakers. “We are not only trying to get our schools open, but we are constitutionally required to educate students. It’s not a choice. We are constitutionally required to do so.”

“The question for us is how do we educate those students and still comply with the requirements that have been set out by the local health districts in each of their areas,” Echeverria said.

As an example, she said a standard school bus can hold 82 children. But if the kids have to be kept 6 feet apart from each other, “We can only put about 13 students on that bus.”

Masks also could be an issue, she said. “While we have a captive audience, that audience includes 6- and 7-year-olds. In those counties where they’re required to wear masks, what if they don’t? They’re going to be using these things for slingshots, they’re going to be blowing their noses in them, and putting them on their shoes and sliding across the floor.” And teachers will have to police all that, she said.

“So with all that said, ISBA would appreciate a special session to deal with this issue of liability,” Echeverria said, a sentiment echoed by Andy Grover, the new executive director of the Idaho School Administrators Association.

“Many of the schools are opening mid-August,” anywhere from Aug. 15 to mid-September, Grover said. “We’re talking two weeks, two and a half weeks for some of these schools to open.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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