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State Board of Education extends 'soft closure' of schools through end of year

BOISE - As Idaho education officials grapple with what the end of this school year will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Board of Education unanimously agreed Monday to extend the soft closure but give flexibility to Idaho's school districts and charter schools as they determine new ways to meet requirements and gauge students' readiness in high school civics and early reading.

That flexibility extends to whether individual districts and schools reopen in their school facilities later this spring or continue to operate remotely under soft closure, not resuming their traditional school schedule until next fall. The board's initial order for soft closure would expire April 20, but Monday's board action means the, soft closure would continue for the remainder of each district or charter school's calendar for the current school year unless an individual district or school satisfies criteria to reopen. Those criteria will be developed in conjunction with state and local health officials in accordance with national guidelines.

However, the State Board also left the door open for local school boards to potentially reopen their schools under criteria that will be developed and considered by the State Board at its next meeting on April 13.

Here is the Board motion, which was approved unanimously:

"I move to extend the soft closure to the end of each school districts and charter schools 2019-2020 academic school year or until such time as local and state social distancing orders have been lifted and re-entry criteria established by the Board have been met."

Two weeks ago, the Board approved the statewide soft closure through April 20.

The guidance, which is in effect, directed districts and charters to provide three essential services:

  • Provide food services to underserved populations and childcare for community members who provide critical services.
  • Develop and implement plans for delivering remote or distance learning strategies (online, video, teleconference, and packets).
  • Develop a plan to provide special education-related services.

Latitude for districts was also the key in two successful. In one action, the board waived the requirement that a high school semester credit hour equal 60 hours of total instruction while schools deal with the disruption from COVID-19 and transition to distance learning. This will eliminate the need for individual districts and charter schools to submit individual waiver letters to the Department of Education.

In other action, board members agreed to ask Gov. Brad Little to use his executive powers to waive minimum instructional hours and requirements for a high school civics exam and an elementary reading test as part of the student-performance accountability measures Idaho schools are judged on.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra explained that by this point in the year, high school students have learned the required civics material, and individual schools and districts can assess their understanding through other measures than the normally required exam. As for the Idaho Reading Indicator, scheduled to be administered in grades K through 3 in May, schools could still administer the test - remotely if school buildings have not reopened - as a means for teachers and families to see how students are progressing, but the scores would not be factored into the school's accountability Report Card.

The State Board also heard updates from the presidents of Idaho's four-year institutions who expressed concerns about how the outbreak might impact enrollments and potentially create "serious financial challenges" totaling several million dollars across Idaho's higher education system.

The Board approved the first reading of an amended policy to create more flexibility for institution presidents in the area of human resources management due to of unforeseen catastrophes such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal will be considered for final approval at the next week's special Board meeting.

Window on the Clearwater
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Orofino, ID 83544
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