Nampa School Levy

The cafeteria area at West Middle School in Nampa on Jan. 16, 2020. The school district started the 2020-21 school year fully online due to the spread of COVID-19.

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NAMPA — Minutes after Southwest District Health put Canyon County back into the highest risk category for COVID-19 transmissions, the Nampa school board changed its reopening plan to allow schools to stay open in a hybrid model.

The board voted 3-1 Tuesday night to alter the Nampa School District’s reopening plan. The original plan would have schools operating fully online while Canyon County is in the highest risk level. District spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck said it would take at least 10 days for the district to transition back to fully online under the old plan.

The board plans to reevaluate its reopening plan again later this year, after consulting with parents and staff about the best direction for the district.

Being in the highest risk level means Canyon County is seeing more than 5 new daily cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 population, according to Southwest District Health. Canyon County is one of the biggest hot spots for COVID-19 in the state, with 11,616 total reported cases and the second-fastest weekly rate of new cases, according to Idaho’s COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday.

Nampa school board trustees were considering changes to its reopening plan during their regular meeting Tuesday when Southwest District Health put Canyon County in the highest risk category. One of the proposed changes would allow schools to remain in a hybrid model while the county was in the highest risk level.

Southwest District Health announced the change in risk levels one day ahead of schedule. Director Nikki Zogg said the health district did this to give schools extra time to make adjustments.

Superintendent Paula Kellerer said at least 115 students and 35 staff in the school district have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year. As of Saturday, 153 students and 12 staff needed to quarantine due to close contact with someone who tested positive.

St. Luke’s physician Michaela Schulte told the board that safety precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools. But she said as cases rise in the county, she believes community spread could grow in schools. She said she was concerned about students and staff growing careless about the safety measures over time.

An online survey of district staff and parents found that a majority of middle school and high school parents were supportive of the district staying in a hybrid model while Canyon County was in the highest risk category, while a majority of middle school and high school staff opposed this plan.

A majority of elementary school parents also supported the district sticking with hybrid learning, while elementary staff were split.

Board Chairwoman Kim Rost said she wanted to learn more about why staff members were uncomfortable staying in a hybrid model. She said she didn’t feel comfortable voting on a new plan when the opinions from parents and staff were so different. Later in the meeting Rost voted in support of the new plan.

The sole dissenting vote came from trustee Mandy Simpson, who urged the board to stick with its original plan. She said she felt changing the plan now would not be safe for teachers or students. Earlier in the meeting, Nampa Education Association President Eric Maine also requested the board keep its original plan of remote learning during a red risk level.

Trustee Betsy Keller challenged Simpson’s recommendation. She said the district is doing well at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, even though she believes Canyon County has probably been in the highest risk level for at least a week. Keller said the board should not ignore the parents who said they wanted their children learning in a hybrid model.

“We’re doing OK,” Keller said.

Ten district employees and/or contractors and 21 students reported positive test results the week of Nov. 1-7, according to data from the school district. That same week, 12 employees and/or contractors and 153 students had to quarantine because of close contact with a confirmed case.

More than 13,000 students are enrolled in the district.

Erin Bamer is the Nampa/Caldwell reporter. Contact her at Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer.

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