The Blaine County School District Board of Trustees did not take any action Tuesday night after a lengthy discussion about school reentry, ultimately scheduling a special meeting for Thursday evening to determine next steps.

Click here to watch the meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The district’s draft reentry plan includes three potential scenarios for the 2020-21 school year: one in which in-person learning resumes as usual with social distancing in place; one in which in-person learning takes place but is staggered so that not all students are in school at the same time; and one in which all learning takes place from home. The first day of school is currently scheduled for Aug. 17.

At Tuesday’s meeting, trustees expressed concerns that the district was not sufficiently prepared for school to resume, with some questioning whether district leadership had sought enough input from teachers and community members while drafting the options.

To allow teachers and administrators more time to train and prepare for an unorthodox school year, Chairman Keith Roark and Trustee Lara Stone suggested pushing the first day of school back to early September.

“For me at least there’s just no question, as much as it hurts me and hurts some of our students, we can’t go back to school until after Labor Day,” Roark said, noting the number of visitors “flocking to” the Wood River Valley this summer. “The number of tourists will decrease [by Labor Day]. It will also give us the opportunity for more training.”

Whether learning resumes in-person, remotely or through a mix of the two will depend on the intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic that Blaine County is experiencing at the time. The district will make its decision with input from the South Central Public Health District.

The health district won’t officially approve or recommend a course of action until two weeks before the first day of school. Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes told the board Tuesday that in a recent conversation, a health district official indicated that if Blaine County’s new case rate remains relatively low, the health district would likely be open to either in-person learning, a hybrid model or a mix of the two based on grade level.

If students are asked to come back to school, parents who feel uncomfortable with in-person learning—or those who are uncomfortable with the district’s requirement that all students and teachers wear face masks—will have the option to enroll their children in online classes through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy for a semester, Holmes said.

Some of the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting centered on what learning will look like for students who have not enrolled in the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, but who miss two or more weeks of school due to COVID-19 quarantine. To reach these students, Stone suggested that teachers livestream classes at certain points throughout the day.

Other trustees questioned whether the Idaho Digital Learning Academy option was the best approach for teaching students who opt not to return to in-person learning quite yet, and wondered whether the school district should explore other avenues for remote learning.

“We really have not attempted to put together a plan that will provide parents who don’t want to send their kids back to school yet with a quality education,” Roark said.

As a parent, Vice Chair Kelly Green said she found the hybrid model “hard to follow.” Green said she would like to see the district attempt fully in-person learning, then shift to fully-remote learning if Blaine County sees a surge in coronavirus cases.

“It feels like there’s no right answer,” she said. “It feels like no matter what we choose, there will be somebody who is disappointed.”

The Board of Trustees was expected to take a vote regarding next steps at Thursday’s meeting. For coverage, check mtexpress.com.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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