BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho State Board of Education heard from public school superintendents from throughout Idaho and the presidents of all eight public higher education institutions about reopening plans this fall.
A special meeting was held Monday to provide a “statewide snapshot” of plans and challenges for Idaho public education at all levels, to operate safely and effectively during the public health crisis.
Issues that K-12 leaders said they are grappling with include maintaining staffing levels (particularly substitute teachers and bus drivers), managing safety protocols, extracurricular activities, timely procurement of electronic devices for online learning, and disagreements in their communities on issues such as the wearing face coverings in schools.
School is starting or will soon start across the state. Some districts, in more populated areas, have chosen to either delay the start of school or begin with online instruction.
The presidents of Idaho’s higher education institutions discussed protocols and safety procedures in place at the colleges and universities including coronavirus testing, mandated face coverings and social distancing requirements, hand cleaning stations, student temperature checks, etc. They talked about how classrooms and lecture halls have been reconfigured to accommodate smaller class sizes.
The presidents also gave brief descriptions of what instruction will look like on each campus:
· College of Southern Idaho – Approximately 47 percent of classes will be conducted in-person; 43 percent will be online, and 10 percent will be hybrid (a combination of in-person and online instruction).
· College of Eastern Idaho – About one-third of classes will be conducted in-person; two-thirds will occur online.
· College of Western Idaho – Approximately 32 percent of classes will be conducted in-person; 35 percent will occur online; the rest will occur in various hybrid formats.
· North Idaho College – Approximately 60 percent of classes will be conducted in-person (including hybrid); 40 percent will occur online.
· University of Idaho – Approximately 25 percent of classes will occur in-person; 30 percent will be online; 45 percent will be hybrid. The U of I plans to conduct classes fully online after the Thanksgiving break. All students will be tested for coronavirus when they arrive on campus. The University is partnering with their area hospital to conduct testing. The U of I’s fall enrollment is currently down just over four percent compared to last fall.
· Lewis-Clark State College – Approximately 70 percent of courses will be conducted in-person or hybrid; 30 percent of classes will occur online; 100 percent of courses will have an online component. LCSC plans to conduct classes fully online after the Thanksgiving break. LCSC’s fall enrollment is currently down six to seven percent compared to last fall.
· Boise State University – About 50 percent of classes will include an in-person component; the other 50 percent will be conducted online. Boise State’s fall enrollment is currently up about one percent over last fall.
Face coverings and social distancing will be mandatory on campus and increased cleaning protocols will be enforced. Boise State President, Dr. Marlene Tromp, said that they've installed over 1,000 plexiglass shields and have reconfigured classrooms to accommodate students.
“We’ve spent over 1.9 million dollars on new technology to make our classrooms more flexible, our aim is to be as responsive as possible to student needs,” she said.
As they move into the school year Tromp said that flexibility will be the theme, as they need to be prepared to change their plans at any given time.
Boise State will not require students to get tested prior to coming back to campus.
“We didn’t want to put any strict guidelines, we wanted to be responsive," said Dr. Tromp. "We have a public health group and our reintegration committee that meets regularly, often on a daily basis to really analyze the data as it’s coming in and we’ve built a very robust communications strategy.”
During the meeting, the Board said that how Boise State's reopening goes will determine the plan moving forward for Treasure Valley K-12 schools.
· University of Idaho - Classes will begin on Aug. 24. 25 percent of classes will be face-to-face, 45 percent will be hybrid and 30 percent of classes are online. U of I will require every student to get tested for COVID-19 prior to returning back to campus. Each student will be required to sign the Health Vandal Pledge, wear a face covering and social distance.
U of I installed thermal scanners in high-traffic areas.
"I know this won't detect people who are asymptomatic, but it will at least help with detecting," said University of Idaho President, Scott Green.
He said that they have been working with North Central District health to reconfigure their classrooms to accommodate fewer students in larger classrooms.
"We do have plans on whether to stay open or closed, but the number one is really what the state is doing. If we were to regress in stages that would impact our decision and we'd go online," said Green.
· Idaho State University – Classes are underway at Idaho State University. Approximately 53 percent of classes are being conducted in-person; 23 percent are occurring online; 24 percent are occurring in hybrid formats. ISU will complete the fall semester in time for the Thanksgiving break. Idaho State’s fall enrollment is currently down about four percent compared to last fall.
At the request of Governor Little’s office, the Board did not consider a proposed temporary fee for Idaho students enrolled in the WWAMI Medical Education Program at the University of Idaho and University of Washington School of Medicine.
The fee was proposed to cover a gap left by budget cuts ordered across all state agencies and institutions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Governor’s office wants to reassess the impact of the proposed fee on students.