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Idaho’s largest school district closes for another week due to coronavirus pandemic

In Depth: A wild year in West Ada
Posted at 12:28 PM, Mar 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-21 14:28:20-04

BOISE, Idaho — This article was originally published by the staff at the Idaho Statesman.

The West Ada School District extended its school closure until Monday, April 6, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Students in the state’s largest school district were originally scheduled to return Monday, March 30, after the upcoming spring break. But the delay ensures the district’s 40,000 students will remain home for another week, according to an email sent to staff Friday afternoon obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

“Closures beyond that date will depend on what happens with the spread of the virus,” the district wrote.

The school district was originally hesitant to cancel school, opting Sunday afternoon to send its students to school this week after Idaho’s first confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The district reversed course later that evening, joining the Boise School District in canceling school this week ahead of spring break.

Idaho had 36 confirmed cases of coronavirus out of 911 tests through Friday evening.

“The pandemic spreading across the United States is disrupting life in innumerable ways,” the district’s email read. “Education is not immune from the confusion. With updates coming in daily, the questions seem to come faster than the solutions.”

Idaho is one of five states that has not issued a statewide closure of schools, according to Education Week, an independent news organization focused on K-12 education. But Idaho Ed News reported Thursday 95 percent of Idaho’s schools have closed anyway.

The letter answered some frequently asked questions of the district, including what happens if the school doesn’t resume for weeks or the district cancels the rest of the school year.

The district wrote it could tweak its existing calendar to make up lost instructional time but also said extending the school year remains a possibility. It is also considering a waiver from the State Department of Education for the number of mandatory hours required of students.

It added students would not need to repeat their current grades and that seniors on track to graduate this year will graduate.

The district wrote it is developing an online education plan that will meet the legally required definitions of free, equal and uniform education for all students. It said 517 of West Ada’s students are homeless, more than 9,000 live below the poverty line and 9 percent of the homes in its boundaries don’t have internet access.

“Despite these logistical and legal challenges, West Ada has developed a plan to provide remote learning,” the letter to the district’s staff read. “We are continuing to refine the plan. Updates on the plan will be provided after spring break.”

West Ada launched a meal program Friday to provide free breakfasts and lunches to children under 18. Parents can pick up the meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays at the following locations:

  • Renaissance High School
  • Meridian Middle School
  • Lewis and Clark Middle School
  • Frontier Elementary
  • Chief Joseph Elementary
  • Spalding Elementary
  • Ustick Elementary

Children must be present to receive a free meal. Parents can purchase additional breakfast-lunch combos for $5.

The district has canceled all upcoming proms but has not made a decision on the scheduled graduations at Boise State’s ExtraMile Arena.

The Idaho High School Activities Association has suspended all spring sports, including practices, until April 6.

NAMPA GOES ONLINE AFTER SPRING BREAK

The Nampa School District will move to online classes after spring break.

Nampa has distributed iPads to all elementary students and laptops to all middle and high school students in preparation for online school to start Tuesday, March 31. It will host online classes the rest of the week before re-evaluating, according to a release on its district website.

The district started purchasing those iPads and laptops in the fall of 2016 and reached its final students this fall. The devices are part of Nampa’s current curriculum, but staff at Nampa schools will have one final training day March 30.

The district surveyed its students and found 93% already have internet access. It will make all school district buildings Wi-Fi hotspots capable of hosting 50 concurrent devices to ensure all students can access online course material.