School to start later in Fruitland School District

Fruitland School Board member Layne Howell discusses issues with having distance learning at the board’s regular meeting on Monday, as Fruitland High School Principal Marci Haro takes notes. During the meeting, the board moved to delay the start of the 2020-21 school year by one week.

FRUITLAND — As the uncertainty behind the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to challenge schools nationwide, the Fruitland School Board has voted to move the start of classes back one week. The move was made during the Board’s Aug. 10 regular meeting, following a meeting of Payette County school officials with Southwest District Health officials earlier in the day.

“Our administrative group met this morning for some time and discussed … how we’re doing as far as being ready for starting date; A couple things are in our way,” said Superintendent Lyle Bayley. “The two reasons we took a look at is teacher preparation time, and also the ability for us to start in-person.”

Since the board’s last meeting, Southwest District Health has identified Payette County as having a red health alert — the highest — a designation that is to last at least through Aug. 19. However, Bayley said that Fruitland’s rate of positive cases over a three-week period was holding at 3.9 per every 10,000 people. He said the group of school leaders were “a little perplexed” about the county’s health alert after noting this data.

According to the Southwest District Health website, a county in the red alert level has a rolling average of more than five new cases daily per 10,000 people.

“We are hoping that if we delay school opening by one week, we might be able to get in back at the orange color zone,” said Bayley.

He also said health officials indicated a possibility to work around a ‘red’ health alert.

“The representative from Southwest District Health said, ‘Well, you can still have school in person in red, just be very careful.’ We relayed that’s not really useful to us, because everybody has been communicated to in the valley that red’s … red.”

Bayley summed up the conversation led to the idea of moving back the start of classes by one week to allow for the possibility of infection numbers declining.

He noted that the hours lost by moving school back a week would not cause Fruitland to be out of compliance with Idaho Code. The code lays out the amount of instructional time required each year in minutes, not days.

Board member Matt Frye noted concerns about returning to online-only instruction, noting the board experienced technical difficulties with streaming this meeting online.

“Obviously, people who [were] on the Zoom meeting and people who’ve been here have seen what challenges that can cause with just a normal board meeting with adults that use this quite often,” said Frye. “When you’re talking about pushing online learning to every household within the district, I feel like that’s a pretty big hurdle, even though we have some practice from last year. With the numbers trending down, I wouldn’t be opposed to waiting another week.”

Frye noted that things could change quickly, as information comes out of the Idaho Legislature’s special session convening Aug. 24. Board Chairman Kelly Henggeler noted that there remains the concern of liability for schools, as school insurers lay out what items they won’t cover.

Hurrle moved to approve the delay to the start of the school year, with Frye seconding. The vote to approve was unanimous.

A representative from Southwest District Health could not confirm details from the meeting of school officials before press time.

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