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With Kootenai County move into the Red, school districts plan meetings to discuss next moves

Lake City high school posted social distancing regulations outside their stadium during a high school football game against Lakeland on Friday, August 28, 2020, at Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Id.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Allen and Emma Epperly The Spokesman-Review

Now that the Panhandle Health District has moved Kootenai County into the highest-risk Red category for coronavirus transmission and eliminated its mask mandate, school boards for the county’s largest districts will meet Friday to plan next steps.

The meetings are the latest development in a tumultuous week for the county that also saw its hospital capacity at 99%.

The Board of Trustees for Coeur d’Alene Public Schools plans to have a special session Friday to discuss the change, said Scott Maben, district spokesman.

The Red category is triggered when the rolling seven-day average of new cases tops 30 per 100,000 people. Kootenai County’s is 37.8. Other factors are positive testing rates higher than 20%, hospital capacity at or above 100% and implementation of crisis standards of care.

“We know these categories are important to the schools in making their decisions moving forward,” Lora Whalen, district director for Panhandle Health District, said in a statement. “Schools and districts in our area have excellent plans in place to keep kids safe in school.”

On Wednesday, the Idaho State Board of Education modified reopening guidance, removing the recommendation to move to full remote learning, Whalen said.

Whalen said the health district will continue to support schools in their decision-making.

The Coeur d’Alene district moved to Orange this week. Lake City and Coeur d’Alene high schools are operating on a blended model, with students attending class in-person two days a week. Starting Monday, students at elementary and middle schools will switch to a new moderate-risk schedule, with all students attending in-person daily except for remote learning on Wednesday, Maben said.

“We’re not seeing as much of an issue with the younger students in terms of COVID cases and especially associated exposure that lead to quarantines,” Maben said. “It seems to be more of an issue among older teens.”

Younger children are often in cohorts limiting exposure in comparison to high school students who change classes, Maben said. Masks have been required for students and staff since the school year began.

The school board has been holding weekly special meetings on Mondays since the school year began and schedule additional meetings when necessary. Due to public meeting laws, school board meetings must be publicly posted 24 hours before the scheduled start time.

The school board told parents they would get a week notice before a change in schedules, meaning if the board were to make a decision Friday, it would not go into effect for a week, Maben said.

The second- and third-largest districts in Kootenai County, Post Falls and Lakeland, also have scheduled special meetings on Friday.

The Post Falls School District Board of Trustees will meet at noon. The agenda includes two action items: consideration of changes to the district’s reopening plan and consideration of changing the level/color of school operations.

Post Falls began the year in the Orange, or moderate, level before moving to yellow, with full in-person learning on Oct. 12. Masks have been required since the school year began on Sept. 8. The board of the Lakeland Joint School District will meet at 8 a.m. to consider possible changes to the reopening plan and “level of operation.”

Lakeland began the school year on Sept. 8 in the Yellow category, with in-person learning five days a week and masks optional.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained the wrong byline information. It has been updated to reflect the correct authors.