When fall comes around, it’s time for students to get themselves to a school.
Most everyone - adults, at least, and maybe more than the usual number of students too by now - agree that going back to school, in person, around Labor Day, would be a good thing. It helps for all the reasons school is a good thing for students in the first place, from socialization to economic help (having the kids at home has been an economic impairment) and, of course, learning.
The White House is all in favor. So is the governor’s office in Idaho, which specifically has been pointing to the desirability of an in-person return to schooling at summer’s end, only about six weeks off.
With that in mind, the Idaho State Board of Education has delivered a plan for face-to-face classes in the fall. Governor Brad Little, who worked on it with a reopening committee, said in a statement, “I expect all our school buildings to safely reopen in the fall for in-person instruction.”
Maybe, if Idaho’s luck improves a great deal, it might work more or less as hoped. But there are a few roadblocks, some of them about the size of the Riggins rockslide on Highway 95.
First is the growth of the same Covid-19 pandemic that cut short the in-person spring semester. If the disease were diminishing in Idaho, those in-person classes might not be a hard proposition to fathom, or to plan for. But Idaho’s growth in cases has been explosive.
Did you see the graph on the top of the front page of the New York Times last week showing Idaho well ahead of every other state in Covid-19 growth? A lot of people (around the country) did, and it reflects a difficult reality.
Did you see the calls - desperation calls, really - by area hospital officials to take steps to choke back the pandemic?
Idaho’s Covid-19 luck has not been running positively of late. This hasn’t been a great time for socializing.
The well-intended state school reopening plan has a few gaps, too, and they’re not tiny. The IdahoEdNews summarized some of the most important:
“It does not address civil liability issues surrounding the coronavirus, which school administrators have said is a major obstacle to returning to in-person instruction. It does not address how schools should count student attendance, which drives school funding. It does not address sports, another major obstacle to reopening, other than deferring to the Idaho High School Activities Association for guidance on sports and practice. And it is not intended to provide legal advice.”
Those all are big considerations, and they’re probably creating nightmares for school superintendents and principals around the state.
The districts, and the parents and staff in them, are reacting not in lockstep but in various ways. (That’s not a criticism; many at least seem to be trying to work this through seriously.)
Some are setting up plans for return to classrooms with new safety standards. Some are still struggling over figuring out what to do. (The Bonneville School District, for example, is talking about a complicated four-phase plan which relates to bringing students back in a staggered way, part-time; watch for changes in the days ahead.) Many people at all levels are worried about safety; polling has shown that supermajorities of people around the United States think school attendance this fall, as matters look now, seems highly risky, and Idaho parents, teachers, staff and students are unlikely to think differently.
What will happen this fall is anyone’s guess.
I do know that when the spring school semester ordinarily would have ended around Memorial Day, Idaho had 2,839 cases, and as this was written, the state was reporting 13,133. The likely case count by Labor Day isn’t pleasant to contemplate.
The trend line is going the wrong way. The question for Idaho and its elected officials now is: Will their plans for schools in the fall reverse that or make it worse?