As positivity rates of the dangerous COVID-19 virus continue to increase in many Idaho communities, the course of action for public schools in those areas is clear — school buildings in communities considered “hot spots” should remain closed and districts should shift to online instruction. It’s an unfortunate circumstance but a necessary decision to protect the lives of Idahoans threatened by a pandemic that shows no signs of abating in our state.
Hot Spots are those areas where the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing is above 5%, which is the threshold the CDC uses to recommend remote learning instead of in-person instruction. According to recent reports, about 75% of Idaho public school students are enrolled in schools whose communities are classified as hot spots. A document prepared recently by the White House also included Idaho among the states classified as “red zones” that should strongly consider more stringent measures to protect their citizens and reduce the strain on hospitals and health care facilities.
There is a shared responsibility at play here. District officials, professional educators, lawmakers, state agencies, and Idaho citizens all have a role in creating an environment where school buildings can open safely. What we see today is the result of too many being unwilling or unable to do so. Quite simply, we need positivity rates to go down before we can safely open school buildings.
Educators are excited about going back to work and reconnecting with the students they care about. We are dedicated to providing the best education possible, whether it is in person, in a blended model, or completely online. While educators would strongly prefer to be in classrooms with our students, unfortunately we are once again being called on to take on added roles and responsibilities to shift their instruction to online platforms.
District officials should follow the guidelines established by the State Board of Education and should solicit input from educators and health professionals at every step in the decision-making process. The situation we are dealing with is far from ideal and we recognize that district leaders have uncomfortable decisions to make, but educators are calling on them do the right thing to protect students, educators, families, and communities.
Layne McInelly is president of the Idaho Education Association.