The June West Side school board meeting was a brief but weighty affair.
First came the news that the school district’s funding from the state has been cut 5% due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Of that amount, close to 3% is the money that would have gone towards salary raises for teachers.
With the global pandemic far from over the school district has been considering alternative schedules for students to limit the inevitable community spread of the virus, which is infection without travel or attending special events. These schedules factor into plans that would only be utilized if community spread becomes prominent in the area. It should be noted that the board’s thought process was centered on the health of the student as an individual but also the student as a vector for spreading the virus to more susceptible individuals such as parents and grandparents at home.
After much debate both at West Side and Preston School District two general options worked their way to the forefront: a half-day schedule or an on-and-off day schedule. Of the two the board is leaning towards the half-day schedule to help with the younger students. Having them present every day will allow much more content to be covered.
The current plan for the fall is to have students return to school as normal with some parameters in place to minimize the chance of spread. There is, however, a contingency plan, which is to have students social distance while at school which will result in only having half the students present at one time. If students were asked to come to school every day for half of the day, the busses would need to run in the middle of the day to pick up and drop off students.
The final decision for student’s schedules should be finalized in the July board meeting. The Idaho Board of Education and the Governor’s Office will also be releasing guidelines for school districts related to opening schools this fall, which may change any plans the board is making now.
In some good news, the fall sports season is expected to happen as usual. The Idaho High School Activities Association has formed separate committees for all fall sports to help determine strategies that would help the fall sports season stay as normal as possible. At this point, no guidelines or back up plans have been released.
The next issue was the attendance policy. With the district shifting from a five-day week to a four-day week, the excused absences are also being reduced from eight to six per semester.
In other good news, the middle school expansion is set to be completed next month which will be helpful in light of social distancing enforcements. With each student needing to stay six feet away from each other until either the vaccine is ready or herd immunity is declared, more classrooms will be needed for the students to remain safe. The board did wish to stress that these measures will limit exposure but not eliminate it. The bus ride mid-day will have students from both groups together but still allow for social distancing. The lunchroom is a different story. For starters students lining up to get their food and the garbage can and tray drop off are in one spot, increasing chances of exposure. Guidelines for students would be in place to minimize the chance of social distancing parameters being compromised. The district is considering options but as with life there is risk.