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Blaine County Students, Teachers Begin 2021-22 School Year With Mask Mandate, New Safety Plan

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Blaine County School District Facebook
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Blaine County School District Facebook
Blaine County began the 2021-22 school year Monday, August 23.

Yes, face masks will be the new normal as the Blaine County School District begins its 2021-22 school year Monday, Aug. 22. But, there will also be moments when teachers, staff and kids head outside to flash a smile at one another, particularly during recess.

“We're going to step outside with our kids throughout the day, several times today, and take the masks off, “ said Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District Superintendent. “And we’ll have conversations, and smile at each other and laugh and embrace each other, as we start the school year.”

The new school year begins just a few days after the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees approved a new safety plan, which requires face coverings as long as the transmission level of COVID-19 remains high in the community.

Foudy visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the safety plan and high expectations, including his own on this, his first full school year as the district’s new superintendent.

“This is the best day…, the best day of 2021 right now.”
Jim Foudy

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: On a Monday, it's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice.  This morning, a few thousand students and teachers and staff begin another school year in Blaine County - full time, in person, with face masks. This is also a new school year for Jim Foudy, superintendent of the Blaine County School District. And we're lucky that he can spend a couple of minutes with us this morning.  Jim, good morning.

JAMES FOUDY: Good morning, George. Thank you so much for having me.

PRENTICE: First off, the Blaine County School Board has approved a plan that asks students, teachers and staff to wear face mask in school and on busses. Could you talk a little bit about that? As I understand it, this is tied to data which tracks transmission rates.

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Blaine County School District
Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District Superintendent

FOUDY: A lot of a lot of energy and thought went into the development of the plan that the trustees approved. And it's intended to be tied to the guidance and the recommendations of people that know more about epidemiology than we do. We're not experts in that particular field. We are experts in education. But when it comes to epidemiology and disease transmission, that's out of our scope of expertise. Like many people, we've looked very closely at the guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health. We've talked with our local health care providers in our health district. And from all of that, there were some common themes. And, one of the things that we really noticed that we're paying attention to is, that there's a metrics for a decision tree, if you will, for determining whether or not students are quarantined. And what we want to avoid at all costs is the need for a quarantine. We don't want that. We don't want to send students home for a week or 10 days, whether that's a small group or a whole school. We want to try to maintain at all costs a safe environment all of our students, in person, five days a week this year. And so the plan that was adopted is intended to address that, and to maintain that in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible.

PRENTICE: And you told the school board that in the last school year , a hybrid model just wasn't working and, in part, was harmful; and intermittent isolation could have been harmful. Could you talk a bit about how you got to this point to ensure that you've got full in-person classes this morning?

FOUDY: So one of the things that we have is the guidance from the CDC regarding  quarantines. And we know that if all students are wearing a face covering when there is a positive case, only the individual who tested positive needs to quarantine, and the rest of the students can continue to come to school. And so that's as simple as that. We want to keep as many students as possible in school every day, five days a week, all year long, until June.  If we can get there and we know this is a difficult ask of our community. We know that there are many people that would prefer not to wear face coverings. I…I would prefer not to wear a face covering myself. I think everybody could say that. And at the end of the day, we also know that this pandemic is not going to last forever. At some point it's going to be in our rearview mirrors. And when that happens, it's going to be really important that we maintain our relationships with one another. We come together as a community to support the needs of our students and our families in a way that addresses any kind of academic achievement loss that we experienced over the course of the last 18 months… or any other needs that those families may have relative to their students’ education.

PRENTICE: Can I assume that you and your colleagues at the district are having regular conversations with health care providers in your community?

FOUDY: Oh, absolutely. In those conversations this summer, they were monthly, stepping up to weekly now. Yes. So, the entire Blaine County community at large has  on-going conversations with health care providers and elected officials as well.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about your big move from the McCall/Donnelly school district to Blaine County. How big a deal was that for you?

FOUDY: Oh, gosh, I love I love McCall/Donnelly. I still love McCal/Donnelly. I feel I'll always feel a connection with that community, having been there for 18 years. And George…as, you know, we worked together when I was the principal at Donnelly Elementary and McCall Elementary.

PRENTICE:  And for the record, for our listeners, in my previous life, I worked with and worked for foster kids.  And I knew Jim Foudy as an educator. So our professional relationship goes back,

FOUDY: It goes back quite a ways. And as an aside, I have the utmost respect for you, George, as a person and as a professional in the field that you're in today. So, this was a big move for me. I mean, the McCall/Donnelly School District has about 1,300 students; and Blaine County is about three times that size: 3,500. It's also very similar in that they are both resort communities, but different in the demographics. So, Blaine County has approximately 45 percent Latino- Hispanic students within the school district. Poverty levels between the two school districts are similar. And what we know is that any student for whom there was an achievement gap prior to the pandemic… frankly, the pandemic magnified that achievement gap. And so, in both communities, McCall/Donnelly and Blaine County, we have work to do. We have work to do with respect to those achievement gaps, opportunity gaps that students are experiencing today that were magnified in the last year and a half. But I'm happy to be in Blaine County, and I'm happy to maintain many of my relationships that I have still with the local school district.

PRENTICE: Every year is different.… the magic of the first day of school still exists. And my guess is that this morning, the glances and the looks between the kids and the teachers are going to be pretty special.

FOUDY: There is so much hope, optimism and joy.  Teachers cannot wait to see these kids.  Our staffs are at our schools this morning,  welcoming the students on that first day. The smiles are huge. We're going to step outside with our kids throughout the day, several times today, and take the masks off, and have conversations, and smile at each other and laugh and embrace each other, as we start the school year. This is the best day…, the best day of 2021 right now.

PRENTICE: Well, great good luck through this semester and into the year. He is Jim Foudy, superintendent in the Blaine County School District …on this first day of class. Jim, thanks so much for giving us a couple of minutes this morning.

FOUDY: Thank you so much. George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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