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New committees address schools reopening, digital divide

Posted at 3:53 PM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 19:45:50-04

BOISE — The start of the new school semester is fast approaching, and there's still a ways to go before districts are ready to bring kids back.

The president of the Idaho State Board of Education Debbie Critchfield says 75-80% of families say they intend to send their kids back to school. Around 3% say they liked the virtual learning and are looking at other options.

Nearly 20 % say they're unsure and want to see what the conditions are like when returning to school. The public schools reopening committee and the digital divide committee are addressing those concerns.

"The checklist for reopening, I think, is fairly lengthy," said Critchfield.

"Beyond just reopening which in itself is going to be a challenge, I think the greater challenge and the larger discussion here is what happens once we're in school and things change; someone in the school, let's say a staff member, contacts COVID or a student, how do you handle this if it's one person in one classroom, how does the school react, how does the classroom react, how does the district react," said Critchfield.

There's no statewide reopening outline.

"You're going to see some differences from school district to school district," said Critchfield.

There will be similarities with things like sanitation protocols and distancing.

"Not because it's the state wanting not to be prescriptive, but its just general, good sanitation protocols that are out there's so you're going to see a lot of similarities like that," said Critchfield,

"as far as physical distancing we've been instructed and told that's going to be with us for a while until a vaccination is available and so I think districts as they look at their operational aspects of just getting kids back, that's always going to be a consideration."

"There are elements of what we're doing in the reopening that is going to be similar across the state everyone is going to be looking at how to solve them," said Critchfield.

Rural broadband is a priority for the digital divide committee. Critchfield says they're looking for business partners to provide actual technology support.

Right now, the reopening committee is discussing their top priorities.

"We're talking about liability issues are present for school districts as kids come back, we're talking about staffing issues and operational aspects and students learning and finally some toolkit," said Critchfield.

The committees have a tight schedule. Critchfield says on or around June 30 is the date they will provide concrete recommendations and guidance to districts about reopening plans.

In addition to how the schools will return in the fall, districts also have to plan for what student learning will look like. Critchfield says the untraditional spring means students have spent more time away from teachers and have more catch up work.