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The Nampa School District will start the school year fully online next month, while other Canyon County school districts have opted for blended models.

The Nampa school board on Thursday approved a plan to keep school buildings closed for the beginning of the school year, with the possibility to resume in-person instruction later in the year if the county sees a lower rate of new COVID-19 cases.

The board also delayed the start of school a week, to Aug. 24.

Nampa High School English teacher April Demshar told the board she and several other teachers would feel “totally expendable” if they were asked to return to teaching in the classroom with so many new cases in Canyon County. She said she dislikes teaching online, but it is preferable to teaching in-person in the current environment.

Meanwhile, the Vallivue School District school board on Friday approved a reopening plan that will include some online and some in-person instruction. School will start Aug. 19 as scheduled.

The Caldwell School District will also blend online and in-person instruction, Idaho Education News reports. The district delayed the start of school one week, to Aug. 27 for elementary students and Aug. 27 or 28 for secondary students, depending on their assigned blended-learning group.

Middleton schools are expected to open with student groups alternating days of learning at home and coming to class, Superintendent Kristin Beck told the Idaho Press last week.

LEVELS OF RISK

Three medical professionals from Saint Al’s and St. Luke’s presented to the Nampa school board Thursday and all agreed it would not be safe for Nampa schools to reopen, even with every possible safety measure in place.

“I’m confident it wouldn’t go well if you tried to open with this level of activity,” said Jim Souza, St. Luke’s Boise’s chief medical officer.

Canyon County remains one of Idaho’s biggest hot spots for the COVID-19 pandemic, with 4,595 out of the state’s 20,246 cases as of Friday morning, according to the state’s coronavirus website. Nampa itself has seen over 2,360 confirmed cases.

The Nampa School District’s reopening plan lays out three categories of risk and the practices schools should follow based on each category. Trustees identified that the district is currently in the highest risk level in their reopening plan, which calls for remote learning only.

Southwest District Health, the public health district in which Canyon County falls, has established four levels of risk of exposure to COVID-19 ranging from gray to red, with red being the highest risk.

Canyon County currently falls in the health district’s red level, meaning there are more than five new COVID-19 cases per day per 10,000 people.

Southwest District Health’s school liaison Kimberly Beckley said the health district reevaluates the risk levels for its counties at least every two weeks, and it would take a sustained lower level of cases for at least two weeks to bring Canyon County down a level. School district officials will also assess the risks of reopening schools every two weeks, Nampa School District Superintendent Paula Kellerer said.

Saint Alphonsus-Nampa President Travis Leach told the school board that 26% of Saint Al’s Treasure Valley COVID-19 tests returned positive as of July 29, up from a rate of 3.5% positive tests in early June.

About 20 parents and teachers submitted written comments to the Nampa school board regarding the reopening plan, with opinions split on whether reopening schools was a good or bad idea, and two teachers testified that they would feel unsafe if they had to return to school to start the year.

The Nampa Education Association, the local teachers union, previously submitted a letter to district officials requesting an online start to the school year. The association consulted teachers and medical professionals before coming to the decision to submit the letter, President Eric Maine told trustees Thursday.

Trustee Mandy Simpson, who made the motion to start the school year fully online, told the Idaho Press she agreed online learning is not an ideal environment, and it was one of the toughest decisions she’s had to make as a trustee. She said from what she heard from medical professionals, it would not be safe for students or staff to return to the classroom right away, and trustees have an obligation to make sure students and staff in their district are safe.

While the school district’s highest risk level requires that schools remain closed, its medium risk level would allow schools to reopen with safety precautions in place. Kellerer said this level falls in line with Southwest District Health’s yellow and orange risk alert levels, which are reached when communities see between one and five new cases per day per 10,000 people.

In the medium risk level, masks would be required for all students and staff. Staff would disinfect surfaces routinely, desks and other furniture would be spread out to maintain social distancing, and schedules would be altered to reduce crowding. Buses would be running under this level; they would be disinfected frequently and all passengers would be required to wear a mask.

The school district’s lowest risk level falls in line with Southwest District Health’s gray risk alert level, when there’s less than one new case per day per 10,000 people. Kellerer said this category does not mean there is no more risk of spreading the disease, and there will still be safety measures in place.

Schools would remain open in this level, and classrooms would still be disinfected regularly. Masks would only be required when people could not maintain a 6-foot distance.

VALLIVUE SCHOOLS

Vallivue School District students will work remotely on Mondays.

Elementary students will attend school in-building Tuesday through Friday.

Middle and high school students will alternate at-home and in-person learning on an A-B day schedule, with half of the students going to school in person on Tuesday and Thursday, and the other half going in on Wednesday and Friday, according to a district email to parents.

Efforts are underway to schedule each family’s in-building attendance days, the email said.

All middle and high school students will be able to check out a Chromebook from the district.

“With the uncertainty of daily operations, it is in the best interest of students to possess a Chromebook that can be utilized at home when face-to-face instruction is suspended or altered,” the email said.

CALDWELL SCHOOLS

In the Caldwell School District, K-5 students will attend school four days a week in person on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday during assigned morning or afternoon sessions, with work to be completed at home, Idaho Education News reports.

Sixth- through 12th-grade students will attend on an A-B schedule. Group A students will start school Aug. 27, and attend Mondays and Thursdays. Group B students will start Aug. 28, and attend Tuesdays and Fridays.

Wednesdays will be a “digital day” for all students, Caldwell Superintendent Shalene French announced on the district’s webpage Tuesday, according to Ed News. All students will receive a device to use at home.

Erin Bamer is the Nampa/Caldwell reporter. Contact her at 208-465-8193, or ebamer@idahopress.com. Follow on Twitter @ErinBamer.

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