Fall sports given the green light
Nearly 200 people watched on Facebook Live as the Teton School District 401 Board of Trustees, district staff, and medical professionals discussed the district's reopening plan for over five hours on Aug. 10 before the board finally decided to postpone the decision until Aug. 17.
The meeting bogged down repeatedly while parents and educators awaited a concrete plan. The district clerk spent over an hour reading nearly 30 emails into the record, including some repeats, despite the fact that the public comment was already available to view on the district's Google Drive. Representatives from Teton Valley Hospital and Eastern Idaho Public Health weighed in for another hour or so.
Then Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme presented the district's draft reopening plan based on guidance from federal, state, and regional health and education officials. The plan goes off the same metric used by Eastern Idaho Public Health, where risk level is based on the number of active COVID cases per 10,000 people. In times of "minimal" and "moderate" risk, TSD401 would function mostly as normal aside from enhanced sanitizing precautions and mandatory masks. If the risk rises to "high" the student body at each school would be split and students would attend class in person on alternate days. At the "critical" risk level, if the hospital reaches maximum capacity or a stay at home order is issued from the state, learning would go entirely online. To read the full plan visit tetonvalleynews.net.
The superintendent had proposed pushing the first day of school back from Aug. 24 to 26 to give returning teachers (who are back to work on Aug. 19) more time to prepare for a new reality. Several board members, principals, and Angela Hoopes, the president of the Teton Education Association, suggested that teachers need more than five days.
"There are just some real concerns and unknowns," Hoopes said. "I don't think five days will get us there. I think this is a pivotal point for our community and we need to get it right." She then beseeched the public to help teachers stay safe by wearing masks.
"We don't want to do crisis learning again," trustee Ticia Sheets said, referring to the last three months of the 19-20 school year when teachers and families had to make an abrupt shift to online schooling.
Board chair Ben Kearsley suggested tabling the matter and revisiting it at the next meeting. Rather than pushing the first day of school back more, the board delayed making any decision and instead made a nebulous request to the admin team for a more detailed reopening plan.
"Parents and students are hungry to get back to school," Woolstenhulme said, and warned the board that the public school system faces more enrollment competition this year than ever from private schools, online schools, and home school. "This needs to get decided as soon as possible and the longer we take to make this decision the more we jeopardize everything."
In the final five minutes of the meeting, the board approved the fall sports program based on guidelines published by the Idaho High School Sports Association and detailing specific precautions that each team will take. Student athletes had already started practice or try-outs on Monday, in accordance with the state athletic calendar, and will be able to continue practicing because of the board's decision.
The school board has a special meeting scheduled for next Monday, Aug. 17. In addition to reviewing bids for the district properties that are for sale, the board will attempt to squeeze in the many agenda items left unaddressed at Monday's meeting, on top of determining a school start date and reopening plan for the district.