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Coeur d’Alene schools regroup in face of COVID-19 surge

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 19, 2020

Coeur d'Alene schools have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus cases and quarantines.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-RE)
Coeur d'Alene schools have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus cases and quarantines. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-RE)

The Coeur d’Alene School District board voted unanimously Monday to allow four days per week of in-person instruction for kindergartners through eighth-graders beginning Oct. 26, pushing ahead amid rising COVID-19 cases in its schools and across Kootenai County.

Superintendent Steven Cook said keeping the schedule for its younger students would be more “predictable and stable” for most families.

The decision also is a nod to parents, many of whom called the transition between learning models “tremendously burdensome,” according to Cook.

The decision comes four days after the Panhandle Health Department moved Kootenai County from the “yellow,” or minimal risk level, to “orange,” for moderate.

That’s where the district began the year on Sept. 14, with all students attending school twice a week and distance learning the rest of the time.

On Sept. 26, the district noted the stable COVID metrics and moved to in-person learning, five days a week, for all those who were willing. At the same time, the board agreed to follow health district guidance on what risk level it would adhere to.

Full in-person learning began on Oct. 5. The result was highly problematic at the high school level, where 48 students and staff have tested positive for COVID.

As of Monday, 387 students and staff at Coeur d’Alene, Lake City and Venture high schools are quarantined.

Those statistics are the worst in the region.

Cook responded last week by ordering high schools to return to their previous schedule of attending classes in-person two days a week (Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday) and remotely the other three days of the week.

Cook defended that decision on Monday.

“The impact of a positive case in high school is substantial,” Cook said.

However, the outbreak has been substantially lower at the elementary level, with 24% of the quarantines, and at middle schools, with 3% of all quarantines.

Fearing a one-size-fits-all approach, many parents expressed their concerns to the district within hours of the health district’s move to orange.

The district responded Friday with a message to parents, proposing a “new schedule for students in grades K-8 to ensure they receive more in-person instruction than they would under our original blended learning model.

“When public health conditions in our community warrant a move to the Orange level, there is serious concern about how much face-to-face learning our young students are missing,” the district added.

The new schedule would remain in effect when the district is in either Yellow or Orange risk levels.

The result, Cook said, “is a plan where we don’t delineate was much between yellow and orange, and we feel we will get stability.”

The district received more emails during the weekend that board president Casey Morrisoe called “pretty much a mixed bag.”

“There was some buy-in,” Morrisroe said. “There were others who felt it goes too far and others who said it doesn’t go far enough.”

Under the plan, the district reserves the option, on a case-by-case basis, to place a school in the original blended learning schedule.

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