The West Ada School District has extended its closure through April 3 in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Treasure Valley, as district officials take stock of the schools’ options for the rest of the year.
The extension means that the first day back for students is currently scheduled for April 6.
“Planning for what would have been unimaginable a few months ago raises a lot of questions. There are several possibilities,” according to a letter to parents on the district’s website.
The district’s leadership has considered a long school closure to be a “real possibility,” according to the site. Moving classes online for the whole district — the largest in the state — would be difficult.
“West Ada is working relentlessly to overcome these challenges,” officials wrote on the site.
The problem, though, is that according to federal law, if the district is going to make any changes to how it offers education to students, that education must remain accessible to all students — and roughly 9% of homes in the district don’t have internet access, according to the site. Moreover, there’s no database detailing which homes do or do not have access to the internet. Plus, 517 of the district’s students are homeless, and 9,000 live below the poverty line.
“West Ada could offer computers to anyone who requests one or picks one up at school, but even doing so doesn’t ensure that all students will get a computer and be able to access it,” according to the site. “The school district could provide internet access in school parking lots, but without bus service, there is no guarantee that every student would be able to get to school to access the internet.”
In addition to that, the district — unlike most universities — doesn’t normally offer classes online, and thus has no online platform. While the district could acquire such a platform, training staff members on how to use it would require them to gather in groups of more than 10 people — which is currently not advisable because of concerns about COVID-19.
High school seniors will still graduate, and students will not be required to repeat grades, according to the site. By Idaho law, schools must offer a set number of hours for educational services each year. That number varies by level — numbers differ for elementary school, middle school and high school. West Ada School District’s calendar includes more hours than necessary at most grades, according to the site.
“Right now, seniors and kindergarten are on the threshold of not being able to meet these hour requirements within the current calendar,” the site reads. “ With more lost school days, other grades will begin to fail to meet these hour requirements.”
District officials have considered ways to make up lost time later in the spring. Days off of school could be rescheduled as school days, and even adjusting the district’s bell schedule by 15 minutes could help students achieve the requisite number of hours.
The district could also request a waiver from the state releasing it of its hourly requirements.
“Which direction the school district will take will depend on how long school continues to be cancelled,” according to the site.