Seeking compromise on an issue where little existed, the Lakeland Joint School District has decided to limit the number of students returning for in-person lessons.
The board didn’t retreat from its earlier decision, however, that wearing masks would be recommended but not required when the school year begins on Sept. 8.
After a 3-hour-long meeting Tuesday night, the board approved a plan to begin the school year with a hybrid model that calls for students to attend class two days a week.
The meeting drew a virtual audience of more than 500 people and almost 1,000 online comments on the polarizing issues of masks and the risks of full-time on-site learning.
The learning plan is similar to those adopted recently in neighboring Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.
The district includes six elementary schools, two junior high schools and three high schools in northern Kootenai County.
The biggest question facing the Lakeland board was where it should begin the school year.
All three districts will employ a four-color protocol – Green (full return), Yellow (students back four days a week), Orange (twice-a-week in-person learning) and Red (full-distance learning) – depending on infection rates and other factors in Kootenai County.
Now all three will begin in the Orange category, though Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls will require masks.
Lakeland’s model, which also covers teachers, calls for “social distancing to the greatest extent possible and face coverings (masks/shields) will be recommended where social distancing cannot be maintained.”
The board considered starting in Yellow, but Jason Bradbury, president of the Lakeland Education Association, asked for caution.
“We feel that opening in Orange is vital,” Bradbury said. “Your decision today will have a huge impact on the lives of countless people.
“Based on the recommendations of science and common sense, opening in the Yellow will not allow for proper social distancing … predicting a rise in COVID cases.”
Bradbury expressed concern about what would happen “if we throw that (prediction) aside and teachers get sick and children die.”
It was also unclear how the district could maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing in a classroom setting with all students present.
The final decision disappointed families who had pushed for a full return to school.
Many had expressed their displeasure in posts on the meeting’s Facebook Live feed.
As the meeting began, board President Rena Olmstead noted that the districts had received hundreds of emails and other communications.
“This is not an easy time for anyone,” Olmstead said.
When it was over, Olmstead attempted to reassure disappointed families.
“Just because we open in Orange, I’m optimistic that we won’t stay there,” Olmstead said.
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