Officials at Blaine County public and private schools, faced with the uncertainty of smoke and fire conditions this week, scrambled Monday to make decisions about school openings and other pre-school teacher and athletic meetings.
The Community School of Sun Valley, an independent school, decided to push back the starting date of its 2013-14 school year from Monday, Aug. 26, to Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Blaine County public schools had originally planned to open their 2013-14 school years on Tuesday, Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day.
Heather Crocker, Blaine County School District director of communications, wrote Monday on the district’s web site, “Because conditions change rapidly in this type of emergency, we will monitor, stay in touch with incident command, and attempt to make a final decision of any potential change to the start of school by the end of day on Wednesday, Aug. 28.”
Regarding pre-school teacher meetings and professional development that had been scheduled for this week and early next week, Crocker added, “New classified and new certified staff meetings will be held this week as scheduled.
“Professional development training and meetings scheduled for the week of Aug. 26 will be held as scheduled. If staff have been displaced because of evacuations and cannot attend, please contact your building principal.”
She added, “At the majority of schools, new heating, ventilation and cooling systems were recently installed. We will continue to monitor air quality inside of each building for the safety of our students and staff.”
Local schools are operating under Idaho Department of Health and Welfare guidelines on air quality.
In an Aug. 14 news release, Health and Welfare public information officer Tom Shanahan said, “Air quality in the Wood River Valley has reached a ‘hazardous’ level because of smoke from wildfires, prompting public health officials to urge all residents to stay indoors and avoid physical activity until the air quality improves.”
Guidelines, he said, centered on whether visibility was affected because of smoke and particulates from wildfires.
If visibility is reduced to less than six miles, “sensitive groups should limit activity.” If visibility is reduced to less than three miles, air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. If it deteriorates to less than 1.5 miles, it is considered very unhealthy or dangerous.
School District adjusts to conditions
With the start of school imminent Sept. 3 and registration already starting, Crocker issued a school district alert early Monday afternoon. The alert focused on displaced families, registration, athletics and school starting dates.
It said, “All Blaine County schools will accommodate displaced families with regards to registration, athletics and the start of school. Our main concern is supporting the health, safety and peace of mind of our students, staff and families.
“We are grateful to the firefighters, emergency personnel, and others who are working to keep our community safe.”
The alert continued, “Registration will be held as previously scheduled. Extended registration times will be scheduled to accommodate all families unable to attend the regularly scheduled registrations. Families who can’t make registration prior to school starting can easily register when they arrive for school.”
For instance, registration at Silver Creek High School will proceed as scheduled on Wednesday, Aug. 21, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Thursday, Aug. 22, from noon to 4 p.m.
Wood River Middle School registration will proceed as scheduled on Wednesday, Aug. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for sixth graders depending on the first letter of a student’s last name, and on Thursday, Aug. 22, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon for seventh graders, and Thursday from 1-5 p.m. for eighth graders.
The middle school office is operating on a regular schedule weekdays. Call Darsi Cordingley at 578-5030, ext. 2300.
To check other dates and times for Blaine County public schools visit blaineschools.org.
Athletes, coaches adjust
Wood River High School Athletics and Activities Director John Rade met with other school administrators Monday and a statement was issued.
It said, “Until further notice, all practices will be held only once a day and are voluntary. At the coaches’ discretion, the district will provide transportation to Carey for practice or move the practices indoors.
“The district is following the Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality guidelines.”
For the time being, Rade said high school fall sports teams are scheduled to practice once a day—girls’ soccer from 5-7 p.m., boys’ soccer from 4-6 p.m., cross country from 3:45-5:30 p.m. and football at 5:30 p.m.
Rade said, “These voluntary practices are meant to accommodate displaced families. We aren’t going to penalize families like, if their kids couldn’t show up for volleyball tryouts that were held today. Our priority is to keep the kids safe.
“But if you’re back in your house, we want you to practice. Hopefully we can get back to our mandatory practices on Monday, Aug. 26.”
Rade said he is keeping a close eye on air visibility. Anything between three and six miles is causing coaches to decide from two alternatives—doing “walk throughs” outdoors that minimize running, or traveling to Carey for outdoor practices. Any visibility under three miles leaves two options, he said—practicing indoors, or driving to Carey for outdoor practice.
The fact that some practices have already been canceled for local high schools has complicated the Idaho High School Activities Association requirement for 10 practice days before taking part in official competition.
On Monday morning, Rade said he contacted John Billetz, IHSAA executive director in Boise, and received assurance from Billetz that the 10-practice rule would be waived for Wood River High School because of the fire and smoke situation.
The first games that may be impacted for Wood River are scheduled soccer games with Highland of Pocatello on Monday, Aug. 26—the girls at home and the boys away.
Meanwhile, Community School Athletic Coordinator Richard Whitelaw, who doubles as boys’ varsity soccer coach, is analyzing the situation “day by day to determine the best course of action for practices and games.
One of Whitelaw’s main problems is that many families have left town, he said, leaving soccer teams without enough players to have practices. A pre-season set of games last Saturday in Twin Falls had to be canceled for that reason.
The Cutthroat girls’ and boys’ soccer teams are due to open their seasons Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24, with home games against McCall-Donnelly. McCall-Donnelly is willing to travel as scheduled, but Whitelaw said he would wait until Wednesday to make a decision on those games.
“Playing a game of soccer is way, way down on everybody’s list of priorities at this point,” said Whitelaw, hoping to host Buhl in the first High Desert Soccer Conference games of the season Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Wood River Middle School canceled scheduled athletic practices on Monday and Tuesday and instead plan to start practices for soccer and volleyball teams Wednesday, Aug. 21.