TWIN FALLS, Idaho — For students eager to return to the classroom to try and have as normal a school year as possible, the Twin Falls School District's Board of Trustees decided to return to a five-day, in-person schedule.
The board based the decision on a low number of COVID-19 cases among staff and students.
"We've been watching the numbers really closely, and the numbers have stayed low since Christmas Break. Again, wanting to make sure that you weren't going to have further spikes before making a decision on returning," said Twin Falls Superintendent Brady Dickinson.
Since returning from Christmas Break, 13 students and 14 staff have had COVID district-wide. The numbers reported on February 5 only had five students and two staff members out with COVID for the week, an improvement from mid-November when 31 students and nine staff members were out during one week.
There will still be a slight adjustment to the in-person schedule. Mondays will be partial days, where students will be dismissed around two hours earlier than usual. Full days will be held, as normal, Tuesday through Friday.
Depending on which school you attend, it will affect when you are released. That information is available on the district's website.
Even with students returning to the classroom, the district plans to continue focusing on distance learning.
"This year is a little bit different when we have students out," said Eva Craner, TFSD's Public Relations Director. "In a typical school year, if a student's out because they have a cold or the flu, they're out a couple of days. With COVID, it's a longer period of time. Typically they're out ten days. Sometimes it's longer than that if they have a serious case."
Due to the time it takes for teachers to prepare online learning content such as projects, lessons, or videos, the time left over from early release on Mondays will give teachers the chance to develop lesson plans.
"It's just important if we're going to provide robust lessons to our kids that teachers have time to prepare, and so it's a balance in providing that time and then also trying to get kids in on the classroom as much as possible," said Dickinson.
There are still some outstanding issues that will have to be addressed at the school board's next council meeting on Wednesday, February 24.
One issue deals with how much digital content teachers will have to provide for students and how they can effectively prepare content with reduced time. The other outstanding problem surrounds the younger children within the district.
"What's going to happen with half-day kindergarten? On a Monday when it's an early release, those students who would come in the afternoon, when are they going to come to school? Is it going to be alternating Mondays, or are there other options? So our Elementary team is starting to work on that," said Craner.
The five day, in-person week is slated to begin on Monday, March 8, nearly one year since Idaho recorded its first COVID case.