LPOSD sets timer, drafts fall plan in 10 days

Staff Writer | July 19, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Lake Pend Oreille School District board of trustees met Monday night to break ground on the latest COVID-19 conundrum — Will the school district be prepared to provide in-person education while protecting students and staff from the contagious novel coronavirus?

In spite of ever-changing data and policies, LPOSD Superintendent Tom Albertson has given himself the next 10 days to present a fall school year COVID-19 contingency plan.

“I am getting more and more emails from parents just wanting to know options because it’s on their mind,” Albertson said. “I still think if we can put something out to them a month before school starts, that would give them the time that they need to choose for their students.”

His latest idea, which evolved Wednesday night, is to build a fourth color into Idaho State Board of Education’s July 9 Framework. The framework uses red, yellow and green to represent the level of community transmission and its corresponding education model. Albertson said introducing an orange level could give schools in the district more opportunity for joint in-person and online learning rather than 100 percent remote learning.

“We would like to have kids come to school every day,” Albertson said. “But, before it went from that all the way to distance learning, maybe our orange color could be where our kids would only come a couple of days a week. It’s just kind of that intermediate step.”

Similar to the yellow level, the orange level could cut down class size and reduce COVID-19 exposure while meeting in-person, with slightly more restrictions. Albertson said his main goal for creating LPOSD’s fall school opening plan is to provide as many choices for parents as possible.

“We want our staff and our students to be safe, but we also understand how important it is to provide an education,” he said. “It’s like one of those advanced math courses in college that you sat there and looked at the problem and thought, ‘OK, where do we get started?’”

At Monday’s board meeting, Albertson shared survey results received late June from parents of LPOSD students to measure the effectiveness of distance learning among K-12 students. The presentation indicated 676 parent responses out of 4,200 emails sent out by the district. Approximately 900 students or 24 percent of the student population for Lake Pend Oreille schools was captured in the survey results. Two challenges were highlighted by Albertson’s survey — adequate educational resources and technology for students and psychological stress.

Idaho State Senator Jim Woodward attended the July 13 school board meeting, urging trustees to look into mini grants and apply for project funding under the $34 million CARES Act funding awarded to Idaho State Board of Education to improve blended learning and help close the digital divide. $30 million of these funds will be allocated to cities and counties looking to purchase devices for students and improve internet connectivity.

Over 28 percent of LPOSD parents said their students had a lack of adequate technology to communicate effectively with teachers, Albertson said.

Specifically, the survey revealed 36 percent of parents said distance learning was stressful on their families, 55 percent of people did not have time to oversee their student’s work and 36 percent said they had a lack of background knowledge to assist their student.

Woodward said his mission is to ensure all school districts in Idaho have an opportunity for an education management system, like LPOSD’s Schoology, create more online engagement, distribute computers and chromebooks throughout the state and close the gap with urban and rural areas.

For now, Albertson is going to continue partnership with Idaho Digital Learning Academy to have a full online school system ready for the fall, should parents and students opt out of in-person learning. The biggest thing to emphasize, Albertson said, is that every decision is fluid and every decision could change from now until his July 28 deadline.

“We could make the very best of plans today, and they may have to be adjusted tomorrow,” Albertson said. With a resounding response of 77 percent of people wanting their children back in school for the fall, Albertson is determined to give parents the option to do so, so long as it is deemed safe by Panhandle Health District.

PHD and LPOSD have been working together to create a plan that satisfies health guidelines and needs outlined by the education system. PHD introduced the idea of cohorting students following the release of the July 9 ISBE framework.

“That’s where our plan is centered,” Albertson said. “How do we keep that third grade class kind of contained with their third grade teacher and still operate the school when we have been trained and we know high collaboration is what we want to do?”

Generally the school and health district have parallel authority, meaning that one entity could overpower another depending on the circumstance. PHD would like to “stay in their lane” and solely provide health guidelines, however, many education decisions hinge on Panhandle Health District’s determination of community spread and mask policies. Ultimately, PHD can close a school or the entire district if COVID-19 cases overwhelming the Sandpoint community.

“It’s really how to deal with social distancing students in the classroom and not knowing exactly what that student population is going to be,” Albertson said. “A school of 100 is going to be a lot different than a school of 1,000.”

Region I superintendents will meet next week with PHD and LPOSD will hold a workshop to get input from teachers, principals and directors on the district’s fall school opening plan. Another survey will be sent out to parents at the end of the month with new questions related to education models during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aly De Angelus can be reached by email at adeangelus@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @AlyDailyBee.