West Ada ends COVID-19 exposure notifications, looks at working group

West Ada School District
Posted at 9:35 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 23:35:23-05

MERIDIAN, Idaho — West Ada School Board members voted to end sending exposure notifications to student guardians and create a new COVID-19 working group Monday night, following nearly three hours of discussion.

Zone 1 Trustee Lori Frasure made the motion to end notifications, which resulted in a 3-2 vote that Trustees Amy Johnson and Rene Ozuna opposed.

Frasure said she didn't think the notifications were "necessary" at this time due to the high rate of community exposure. The state dashboard reported a positivity rate of 34.1% on Monday for the week of Jan. 9 through Jan. 15.

"I've read in the emails that have come to all of us on the dashboard, and I've seen several where parents are saying, 'I don't see the point in getting those," Frasure said. "I think we need to look at how does that information help them? What does that do?"

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The state dashboard reported that the West Ada School District had 271 new positive cases last week. However, WASD Superintendent Derek Bub pointed out that the state is experiencing a massive backlog in test results. As of Tuesday at 9 p.m., the state dashboard estimated approximately 39,700 outstanding positive COVID-19 tests pending from Idaho public health districts. The WASD COVID-19 dashboard is available here.

"There is this expectation in our community right now that you've probably been exposed, not just from schools," Bub said when asked by trustees for his opinion. "Right now, I think it's a fair expectation with a spread at the level that it is that you have been exposed if you've been outside your house. Even inside your house, you've probably been exposed."

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Removing the responsibility of administrative staff from pushing out notifications would save some time, Bub said, as many are filling in as substitute teachers. The district currently utilizes 220 substitute teachers per day to combat staffing shortages, Bub reporting in a districtwide presentation.

Ozuna opposed the motion, stating it was "a step in the wrong direction." Johnson agreed, calling it a "slippery slope" for immunocompromised families, have plans to travel or have children in activities requiring testing to participate.

"I get a little bit nervous about stopping parent notifications of things parents want to know about," she said.

Board chair Trustee Rusty Coffelt questioned if the notifications have value if it is not specific in how seriously a student may have been exposed to COVID-19.

"We're creating stress on our families," he said. "That doesn't really seem necessary."

During the meeting, several board members expressed concern about current district COVID-19 policies, including masking, testing, quarantine periods, and exposure notifications. The WASD currently does not have a mask mandate and follows quarantine guidelines set by Central District Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 masks schools
FILE — In this Aug. 11, 2021 file photo Joy Harrison instructs her second graders at Carl B. Munck Elementary School, in Oakland, Calif. Public school teachers and staff returning to the classroom in August fueled another impressive month of job gains in California according to data from the California Employment Development Department, released Friday, Sept. 18, 2021. (Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool,File)

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Ozuna, who described herself as a mask supporter, said she even doubted the efficacy of masks as new studies show cloth face coverings are not as effective in cutting the spread of COVID-19. Frasure said she believed in "freedom" for families to "choose whatever is correct for their individual situations."

In a unanimous vote, the board directed the district administration to develop a working group to review current COVID-19 policies and create an endemic plan for future school years. District administration will present a proposal about the group at the next board meeting on Feb. 14.