MIDDLETON — The Middleton school board has pushed back the district's first day of school three weeks to Sept. 8 due to COVID-19 concerns.
In a Monday night meeting, district Superintendent Kristin Beck and the Information Technology Department recommended the school board delay the Aug. 18 start date to give the district more time to prepare for online instruction.
The board was expected to make a determination of what form of instruction it would open up with, but instead, the trustees decided to reevaluate the opening category as the first day of school gets closer.
Many school districts throughout Idaho have been following the guidelines of their health districts about what form of instruction to implement for the school year. The Middleton school board decided to create its own metrics for reopening schools.
The board will hold a work session with Southwest District Health and others in the health care industry to determine relevant metrics within the school district's boundaries.
The board's concern was that Southwest District Health data includes case counts in larger cities, such as Nampa and Caldwell, and cases in long-term care facilities. The board members said they do not think the health district's numbers are representative of the positive cases within the school district, which has a student population of 3,026.
Over 90% of Canyon County's 5,869 cases of COVID-19 have been in Caldwell and Nampa, Southwest District Health numbers showed Monday. Only 198 of the county's cases, or 3%, have been in Middleton.
"We need to follow our own guidelines," said trustee Derek Moore, adding that he doesn't want to follow what Boise or Ada County does in terms of school closures.
Beck said the district's legal team advised them to follow health district guidelines. Southwest District Health has four health alert levels, ranging from gray to red, that indicate the level of community spread in each of its six counties and recommend steps for school districts.
The board voted unanimously to delay the start of school and create district metrics that guide whether schools open in person, remotely, or a mix of both. The board will likely make a determination by Aug. 28.
SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTION FOR 'RED' STAGE
The board of trustees also voted to amend the district's "red," or category 3 stage of opening. The category previously outlined a soft-close without in-person instruction.
Beck asked the board to amend the plan to include one day of small group, in-person instruction per week.
"While we believe it is important to remain in compliance with the rating set forth by Southwest District Health, we are not comfortable with starting school without face-to-face interaction with our students," Beck said.
The board also added a strong stance on wearing masks in schools in the category 3 stage.
"We need to say, Middleton asks you to wear masks," said trustee Jake Dempsey, the new trustee for zone 3. "We need to be sure it doesn't give any wishy-washy words for people to try to skirt around."
Moore was the only dissenting vote on making the amendments to the category 3 guidelines.