Nampa Schools on Thursday took the most proactive step yet to slow the spread of the coronavirus among major Idaho school districts, delaying the start of its school year a week and moving all classes online for at least the first two weeks.
The Idaho Statesman reports the Nampa School Board approved the back-to-school plan after three hours of debate and testimony. It also passed a requirement for masks or facial coverings in its buildings when they reopen, a reversal from a week ago when it planned to just encourage them.
“Starting in this conservative manner and then working our way back makes a lot of sense,” Nampa School Board Chair Kim Rost said during Thursday’s meeting.
Nampa is the state’s third-largest school district with 14,000 students. It planned to start school Aug. 18. The new start date is Aug. 24, when all students will begin online classes.
In-person classes would not start until Sept. 8, at the earliest, after the Labor Day holiday.
To reopen for in-person classes, Nampa would need to move out of the highest category of Idaho’s back-to-school guidelines. Southwest District Health announced Thursday all of Canyon County is in Category 3 (red), which comes with a recommendation to keep school buildings closed.
Canyon County has emerged as a coronavirus hot spot in the past month. The county reported 127 new confirmed cases Thursday, lifting its seven-day rolling average of new cases to 125.1
Its rolling seven-day average was 55 on July 1.
Leaders from the Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospitals detailed the virus’ spread to the school board. Saint Alphonsus shared its positive testing percentages for COVID-19.
Its seven-day rolling average topped 20% on July 15 and has remained there since. It was 26% on Wednesday. That includes tests across all of its hospitals in Boise, Nampa and Ontario.
“Our greatest hope is our current prevalence is the highest we’ll ever see, and just not one step on the ladder to a much higher prevalence,” said Travis Leach, the president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Nampa.
Nampa’s teachers union called for classes to move online Tuesday, citing the virus’ spread in Canyon County. Eric Maine, the president of the Nampa Education Association, reiterated that stance Thursday to the school board.
Amanda Ferguson, a science teacher at East Valley Middle School, said she was terrified to return to the classroom. She has written a will and named godparents for her daughter.
“We don’t know what the student mortality rate would be like because the data is incomplete,” she said. “Students were internationally one of the only populations of people who were quarantined quickly and effectively because they didn’t have a choice, and we kept them safe.
“So we don’t know. We do know that some of them will die if we open right now, and I don’t know which students we’re OK with dying, what teachers are acceptable losses and which people we are OK with traumatizing when their friends and family and their teachers die.”
Southwest District Health schools liaison Kimberly Beckley warned schools around the state will likely remain in Category 2 (yellow) or Category 3 (red) of Idaho’s back-to-school guidelines for the entire school year. Category 1 (green) most closely resembles a normal school experience but still recommends preventative measures.
Nampa School Board member Mandy Simpson said she’d like to return to Category 1 as soon as possible. But she noted the school district has a responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for students, something it can’t do right now.
“I want us to get to green. I want us to prove Southwest District Health wrong and be in green before the end of the year,” she joked. “That’s my hope and my expectation. But we got a lot of work to do as a community to get there.”