Payette SD meeting

This photo shows a look at the Payette School District Board of Trustees special meeting on Thursday, which was conducted entirely via Zoom. 

PAYETTE

Students in Payette School District will be required to wear a face covering moving forward, as the district’s Board of Trustees made a change to its reopening guidelines on Thursday night.

In a meeting that was conducted entirely via Zoom, the Payette School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to continue operating the district in-person (the green reopening category) but added that students must wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible.

Payette Schools started the 2020-21 school year in person on Tuesday with classrooms full of students for the first time since mid-March.

Terrie Shurte was the first member of the board to discuss face coverings on Thursday night, calling it the least the board could do to ensure that the schools stay open and in the green phase (and a request she has been hearing from parents all week). Andy Kirkendall made the motion to keep the schools in the green phase while requiring face coverings. The motion was seconded by Shurte.

Before voting, Board Chairman Adam Rynearson said he would have voted differently if it was just weeks ago, when Payette was seeing around four or five cases per 10,000 population.

“Now I think differently,” Rynearson said. “We need to do something different.”

Payette County is still one of three counties that Southwest District Health is identifying as in the red (high) risk category for community spread of COVID-19. Counties in the red (Payette, Washington and Canyon) all have more than five daily new cases per 10,000 residents or other indications of high risk to the community, the Southwest District Health website states.

Over the past seven days, the 83661 zip code has 11.99 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 population, the highest in the Southwest District. Kim Beckley, the school liaison from Southwest District Health, was at the meeting to answer questions for the board. Beckley said the health district worries about an area when the cases per 10,000 is over five.

On its website, Southwest District Health is recommending that only schools in gray counties (where there is less than one daily case per 10,000 people) open in full the way that Payette and New Plymouth School Districts are. For school districts that are in red counties, Southwest District Health is recommending that schools targeted and short-term occupancy or extended building closures (none of the schools in Payette or Washington counties are).

Gem and Owyhee counties were moved from the red level to orange this past week.

This is not the first time that Payette School District has had to change plans this school year due to COVID-19. On Aug. 17, the district announced that the football program was under quarantine following potential exposure to the virus at a football camp held at the school the previous week. The football team is quarantining until Friday, and is unable to play the season opener against Cole Valley Christian (scheduled for the same day).

According to Payette School District Superintendent Robin Gilbert, there are three teachers at Payette School District who are currently under quarantine. All three are expected to be back to work on Monday.

Thursday marked the second time that the Payette School District Board of Trustees met in the past seven days to discuss the reopening of schools.

“It seems like everyone else is back to work,” Rynearson said. “And schools are the last place this battle is still being fought over. It’s sad.”

On the evening of Aug. 20, Payette School District posted an update to its website, citing that the 20-21 school year would not be starting as previously indicated due to “a significant community spread of COVID-19 for Payette City and County.” This information on COVID-19 spread came from Southwest District Health. As a result, the original first day of school (Aug. 24) was canceled and an emergency special meeting was scheduled for the following morning.

At the meeting, the board voted to not change its plan for reopening the schools, moving the starting date to Aug. 25.

On Aug. 10, Gilbert reported to the board that she believed that Payette School District could reopen in the yellow “Level 2” of the district’s leveled operating plan, which would be a hybrid model that had half of the student body taking class at a time (Weiser and Fruitland schools are also using this model). On Aug. 14, the School Board met in special session and voted to open in “Level 1”, which sees the students going to school fully in-person with “mitigation processes and protocols” used in the facilities.

The next meeting of the Payette School District Board of Trustees will be on Sept. 14. Rynearson said he would like for the board to address the school opening stage possible every two weeks, a request that was not discussed or voted on.

Rynearson said he expects a “good forum for public comment” at the September meeting, which will be physically held at the Payette School District office.

Nik Streng is the sports reporter for the Argus Observer. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2015 with a master's degree in journalism, after graduating from Pacific University in 2013 with a degree in creative writing.

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