Public responds to LPOSD COVID-19 reentry plan

Staff Writer | July 31, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A draft of Lake Pend Oreille School District’s COVID-19 reentry plan was tabled for approval Tuesday evening. The board of trustees and Superintendent Tom Albertson reached consensus on the framework proposal, but wanted to be clear to the public the document is just a work in progress.

“This is just a guideline. There are going to be changes to this, probably before school even starts, so we need to be flexible,” Board Chair Cary Kelly said.

Albertson took lead on creating the district’s plan for students and staff continuing K-12 education in the fall. His reentry plan centers around three priorities: safety of students and staff, maximization of in-person instruction and the opportunity for families to choose education models.

“It’s up to us to provide as much of the menu as possible, knowing that we can’t provide a menu for every individual,” Albertson said.

LPOSD’s framework closely follows Idaho State Board of Education’s three-tier reopening plan, with a red, yellow and green level to correspond to the community’s level of COVID-19 transmission. Unlike other school plans, Albertson proposed an orange level to give more opportunities to students for blended learning.

Many residents attended Tuesday’s meeting including first-time board meeting attendee Ron Korn, who participated in a June survey sent out by LPOSD and voted for sending children back to school on Sept. 8.

“Our kids are not learning by doing computer work at home, mine didn’t,” Korn said. “Mine had to go to summer school because of that.”

The June survey revealed 77 percent of parents would send their kids back to school, which dropped roughly 10 percent in the current July survey. The July survey has already received over 1,000 responses from parents.

Korn and others raised concerns at the meeting about the proposed blended learning models in the yellow and orange levels. He said that his children will not be coming to school unless it’s open for all five week days.

“That’s the bottom line,” Korn said. “There is no in-between because my kids aren’t learning. They are going to go to school or they are going to be homeschooled.”

Albertson’s goal is to open schools and keep them open in the fall, while providing consistency for students and staff.

“The yo-yo of having to close schools, reopen schools and close schools, I want to avoid that,” Albertson said. “We are really going to have to partner with parents. If your student is not feeling well, and we have staff that are not feeling well, that are symptomatic, then we need them to stay home. The more that we can collaborate, the more we can keep our schools open.”

Another Bonner County resident, who is a semi-retired nurse for Bonner General Health, told the trustees she felt very safe working in the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. She lobbied for students to have full-time face-to-face learning.

“I feel like we are going to have far worse things than COVID-19 if we don’t get students back into school,” she said. “They need to intermingle, I have seen kids very depressed and down on themselves.”

Numerous community members attended the meeting online and wrote comments under the Facebook video. Most comments asked questions about the specifics on health-related policies for the district.

“What about the teachers? Are they expendable?,” Sarah Caruso wrote on the LPOSD Facebook page. “I’m guessing we will not have enough teachers to go back in September. Many are immunocompromised and quite a few of substitutes are retired teachers.”

Sara Pyle was especially concerned about the level of social distancing in the fall.

“There are 30+ kids in my son’s 4th grade class,” Pyle said. “There is no social distancing there. I get the concern with the older kids, but it doesn’t seem to be addressed for our small schools that are bursting at the seams as it is.”

“Cohorting isn’t focused on keeping them safe,” she said. “Its focus is on keeping school open in the event of a positive case.”

Albertson said LPOSD’s framework draft does not answer all COVID-19 health-based questions and will differ from school-to-school based on class size and age of students.

Throughout the meeting Albertson was clear to emphasize the divide between health and education authority. The school system, he said, will not be administering COVID-19 tests or be responsible for contact tracing. LPOSD will also look to Panhandle Health District to determine the level of community transmission.

“The precautions we have put in here that anybody might be concerned about is sincerely not a belief, not us as a school district taking a stance on anything, but it is truly to keep our schools open,” Albertson said.

LPOSD’s plan will be voted on for approval in August. Residents will have a chance to speak at the beginning of the meeting, prior to the vote.