COVID-19 and the many implications caused by the ongoing pandemic was the key issue of the West Side School Board for the month of May.
The trustees brainstormed about how to handle the 2020-2021 school year and still maintain social distancing. Several ideas were brought up and examined. No cohesive plan has emerged as of yet but many potential elements of one have been brought up: having grades K-5 students come for a half a day every day, and having grades 6-12 attend every day, with some students watching a recording of the class online from home or a recorded session. This was suggested by Superintendent Spencer Barzee in the belief that older students would be better able to work from home but younger students who are still learning the basics, like reading and writing, would do best in a classroom setting. One of the key concerns during the entire thought process was inadvertently leaving a young child home alone due to both of their parents working that day. Another consideration is that around 55% of the district rides the bus since many of the high school students have access to a car.
Lunch was another issue. If the district tries to run students through the cafeteria the social distancing requirement would eat up instructional time. An alternative suggested a sack lunch which students to take home. It was briefly joked that perhaps they could have the sack lunches on the bus for the afternoon students, but considering how hard the district is trying to retain their bus drivers no one felt like chancing it; that topic of student behavior on busses, lead into a side discussion about how to enforce social distancing on the busses.
The idea of hiring more paraprofessionals to essentially babysit students on the bus and, if necessary, in classrooms, was suggested if the district should need to stream classes live to a separate classroom.
Near the end of the discussion the board was asked about fall sports and the school’s long track record of placing high in, or even winning, state football. High school principal Tyler Telford said that all fall activities have yet to be determined, but that he is certainly planning and hoping for sports to take place as normal.
With plenty of food for thought the board moved onto the next coronavirus conundrum: graduation. With the health department’s approval, and weather permitting, the district will hold a ceremony on the football field on May 20 at 6 pm. Each graduate will be allowed to bring family members that live in the same household, and each group must social distance on the football field. If the ceremony is rained off the field and into the auditorium, each graduate will be allowed four tickets each for their family members. This will allow for social distancing to occur in the auditorium. For family that can’t attend the ceremony KACH radio will broadcasting audio and video of the graduation ceremony live from mylocalradio.com.
In advance of this meeting a questionnaire was sent out to the senior class listing several options for an end of the year ceremony. There were five options listed: a parade down West Side Highway, a virtual graduation, a combination of the two, a traditional graduation on June 26, or nothing at all. In a twist of irony, given the board’s desire for normalcy and a return to tradition, the “nothing at all” option proved most popular among the class of 44 students coming in at two-thirds of the total votes.
After waiting two months for a hair cut, one more hour wasn’t so bad, said Gary Hymas, Treasureton. He was one of 14 people lined up Saturday morning at Weldon’s Barbershop in Preston when Weldon Cheney arrived to open his shop. Some of them had been there for 45 minutes already, waiting. Cheney closed his barbershop on March 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic scare.
“It was pretty emotional for me,” said Cheney, who has been trimming his patrons for the last 15 years there. “I’m thankful for all of them that waited for me and support me and my family.”
“Some of them were pretty shaggy — I haven’t seen them with their hair that long,” he chuckled. But then so did he. “I decided that if they couldn’t get their hair cut, then neither would I.”
Everyone there was pretty excited to be there, he said. “It was getting to the point I was going to have to have my wife do something with it,” laughed Hymas.
Cheney usually operates his store from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, but on May 16, he cut hair non-stop from 9 a.m. to almost 5 p.m., he said.
“I thought I’d stay open until people stopped coming,” he said. It was crazy, awesome.” He trimmed upwards of 55 people on Saturday.
Other than the extreme demand for service, Cheney said he conducted business as usual because he already had the practice of sanitizing his equipment and his hands between patrons. And he offered to wear a mask if patrons requested it, but it was not a requirement. No one requested it. Having people sit six feet apart, posting a sign on the door asking people not to come in if they were sick, and refraining from grooming beards were the two requirements he was asked to follow to open up for business.
Preston School District’s focus will be on finding out how teachers and students can return to learning at school this fall, said superintendent Marc Gee following the district’s board meeting last week.
Over the last two months of learning at home, parents, teachers and students have recognized the benefits of attending class, said Gee.
“It brought to light how important it was to have that one on one interaction,” he said. Nevertheless, he said he was very pleased with the efforts Preston’s school teachers made to connect with their students.
“We had so many teachers that were willing go out of their way to try to find ways to connect. They were making cookies together at home, holding zoom meetings, holding group discussions, some of them learned how to use online platforms who’d never done it. These were things that made the difference for us moving forward,” he said.
The most challenging part of the whole experience, he said, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. For a variety of reasons, depending on the school, the teachers were not able to have “regular engagement with 5-15 percent of their students,” he said. The younger the students, the more contact they seemed to have with their teachers.
Some youth in the junior high and high schools got jobs, others had trouble with internet connections.
Although the government regulations may not allow for classes to return to normal, returning to class in the fall “is our goal,” said Gee. How the district will create social distancing within a classroom has yet to be determined, as well.
Gee noted the retirement or resignations of four people in the district: family and consumer sciences teacher Lynn Harris is retiring, college prep/English teacher Ellen Gregory is moving, and kindergarten teacher Janell Owens is resigning and cheerleading coach Kim Hobbs is resigning. The district is currently interviewing applicants for those positions.
The district was advised of an update to its science curriculum for grades 5-12. The new system is a more integrated approach and students in grades 5-8 will be taught at the same time instead of focusing on just one. At the high school, students will focus on one topic at a time, such as physical science, chemistry, biology, etc.
“It has been at least 14 years since they adopted new source materials,” said Gee. The new texts books come with electronic versions and complies with the new science standards adopted by the State of Idaho/
Finally, the district discussed how to prepare for budget cuts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The state is cutting 5%, but that doesn’t mean 5% for us — most likely it will be closer 2-3 percent for us. We are working through budget process now to see how we’ll manage that,” he said.