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Kootenai County districts may have to take a step back

Things aren’t trending well for in-person learning in the Coeur d’Alene School District.

In the last 5 days, Kootenai County has seen increasing cases of COVID-19, a petition to send students back to remote learning and one of its largest high schools forced to send 200 students into quarantine.

The news got worse Wednesday when the county reported a record-high 119 positive tests. That pushed a key benchmark – the 7-day rolling average for positive tests – well into the “moderate” range.

Will that be enough to push the school district back into a hybrid model, only 10 days after moving to full-time in-person learning?

That could depend on the Panhandle Health District, which currently assesses the COVID risk in Kootenai County as “minimal.”

A key metric in that designation is the 7-day rolling average of new daily cases. To stay in the “minimal” range, that number must be below per 15 for every 100,000 residents.

For several weeks, it did just that. But from a low of 6.8 per 100,000, it has risen steadily since the Labor Day weekend.

Meanwhile, the district opened the year in the “orange” level, with masks required for a hybrid learning model for all grades. Neighboring Post Falls followed suit, while Lakeland, in Rathdrum, started in “yellow” and with masks optional.

On Sept. 24 the county benchmark hit 15 per 100,000. The Coeur d’Alene school board then approved the move to “yellow,” effective Oct. 5. Post Falls did the same a week later.

As of Wednesday, Kootenai County has a rolling average of 21.1 per 100,000 – well into the “orange” category as set by the health district.

Board President Casey Morrisroe was not available for comment Wednesday, nor were officials from Panhandle Health.

However, school district communications director Scott Maben said that if the health district changes colors, “Our board will meet and discuss if/how to follow suit.”

Meanwhile, an online petition seeking a return to “orange” has more than 1,000 signatures.

The petition was started last week by Tucker Turley, a senior at Lake City High School, where 14% of the student body is currently quarantined after a spike in COVID-19 positive tests.

The petition included several critical comments.

“Cases are rising,” one petitioner wrote. “Also, many staff do not enforce the mask requirements.”

Another post read: “In almost every one of my classes there are about half of the kids gone from COVID or contact tracing and it’s been three days in yellow.”

Nearly all of the cases were contracted outside of school, Maben noted.

However, the return to full in-distance learning has roughly doubled the number of people in close proximity to infected students. It also has affected schools’ ability to enforce social distancing.

At Lake City, where 12 students have tested positive, Principal Deanne Clifford sent an upbeat message to families on Wednesday.

“While we do have a large number of students who are in quarantine, our students are trying hard to follow the guidelines and protocols here at school, including wearing masks and social distancing when practical,” Clifford write.

However, Clifford added that “Students, much like the rest of our nation, are feeling a sense of mask fatigue. We do run into the occasional student who is wearing their mask improperly or taking a quick unauthorized mask break.”

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