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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Magic Valley Schools Lean Toward In-Person Starts While Waiting For Health District Data

Rachel Cohen/Boise State Public Radio
Cassia County School District, which includes Burley High School, will finalize its reopening plan later this month. Several school districts in the Magic Valley are waiting to receive assessments from the public health district to set reopening plans.

Magic Valley school districts will use guidelines approved by the South Central Public Health Board last week to determine how to open schools. As of Friday, the health district hadn’t told counties or school districts where they fall in the matrix of health alert levels.


In a preliminary look at the daily case numbers during last week's board meeting, most Magic Valley counties appeared to be in the "Moderate" (Yellow) or "High" (Orange) risk levels. Some Magic Valley counties like Minidoka, Cassia and Jerome continue to see high COVID-19 case numbers relative to their population size. 


The health district's tiered plan, though, does not list recommendations for schools to follow based on the risk level of their county.


Instead, it refers districts to the state's back-to-school framework. That framework has been used by other health districts in the state, including Central District Health, to determine whether counties fall into one of three categories, prescribing schools to stay open, to open under a hybrid or staggered model or to close completely for in-person schooling.



Credit Screenshot of "Idaho Back To School Framework 2020"/Boise State Public Radio
Idaho's state-level guidelines for reopening schools include a three-category plan based on an area's level of COVID-19 community spread.

The South Central Public Health District did not respond to a question last week about whether it would tell school districts to which of the three categories their counties belong.

Many schools are waiting to decide on reopening plans until the health district provides more information about risk levels.


Twin Falls School District, the largest in the Magic Valley serving about 9,300 students, will decide its reopening plan on August 10. It asked the health district to share the county's level of transmission by that day.  


The school board for the Cassia County School District will meet in late August to deliberate back to school plans just days before students are set to return on August 24. 


Some school districts have already made decisions before receiving the health district data.


Blaine County will begin with a hybrid model with two days of in-person classes. Some smaller districts like Shoshone in Lincoln County are planning to open fully in-person.


Rob Waite, the superintendent of the Shoshone School District, said some of the state’s smallest school districts are in the Magic Valley. The tiered guidelines used for reopening plans “might work fine in Boise or Canyon County, or maybe even Twin Falls County," he said, "but do they apply for a county with 5,500 [people]?”


If Lincoln County got just a few daily cases of COVID-19, it would put the county in South Central Public Health’s “Red” category, he said.


There will be some safety modifications when schools open in Shoshone, like more distancing and sanitation. Families are being told to keep kids home when they're sick.


Another factor on Waite's mind is the socieconomic gap that widens when all students take classes at home. He call his area "a high-poverty district," and said some students were more adversely affected this spring when schools were closed. Many Shoshone parents work in Blaine County or in Twin Falls.


Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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