An open letter to Idaho’s school districts from concerned educators

| May 19, 2020 1:00 AM

On behalf of students and educators in our districts, we call on district officials to approve budgets that will ensure stable, supportive, safe, and healthy schools for our students.

In the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis, Idaho students have experienced great turmoil and uncertainty. Our public schools should be a place of healing for students and communities as we work through the COVID-19 crisis. We need to provide students with as much of a stable learning environment as possible with multi-layered emotional supports. Today’s students were experiencing high levels of anxiety and difficulty with mental health issues like depression, suicide, and disruptive behaviors before this natural disaster. It would be irresponsible to further compromise mental health issues by eliminating staff from schools and exacerbating already woeful student-to-counselor ratios. In many cases, our students’ lives depend on it.

Some districts in Idaho are considering budget cuts that would de-stabilize school environments and, at worst, deny students access to vital services they now, more than ever, will depend on when schools reopen. Now is not the time to hit the panic button and start slashing education budgets. When the school year resumes this fall, in whatever form it may take, students must have access to the fundamental resources to guarantee their health and safety. This includes the custodial services to maintain sanitary conditions, nurses to ensure our students’ health are being monitored, kitchen staff to feed our students, and counselors on hand to step in before a crisis manifests, not after. All jobs are essential.

Idaho has financial resources. Idaho districts have access to CARES Act Federal Emergency Relief Funds, state emergency funds, and in the case of many rural districts, funding through the Secure Rural Schools act. This is on top of the increases voted in by the legislature earlier this year. Most districts also have made prudent decisions that allowed them to build sufficient “rainy day” reserve funds. If a global pandemic doesn’t qualify as a “rainy day”, we don’t know what does. These funds should be used prior to any cuts to personnel and the services they provide. Idaho ranks near last in funding public education, but not because our state does not have resources. This crisis highlights our students’ needs and our collective calling to work together to invest in the schools our students deserve.

We ask school districts to lead, do right by Idaho children and approve budgets that provide stable and equitable services and support for our students.

In unity and with dedication to our students,

RICK JONES

Region 1 President

JOSH KNAGGS

Boundary County Education Association

KIMBERLY ZIEGLER

Coeur d’Alene Education Association

KATHY PETERSON

Lakeland Education Association

JASON BRADBURY

Lakeland Education Association

BRIAN SMITH

Lake Pend Oreille Education Association

JACOB SMULKOWSKI

Post Falls Education Association

JACKIE JOHNSON

St. Maries Education Association

KATHLEEN DAVIS

St. Maries Education Association

EDWARD CHILGREN

Wallace Education Association

WILMA HAHN

West Bonner Education Association