Schools struggling with plans to open

Idaho schools had their troubles before this pandemic began. Per student funding was second lowest in the nation. State results for math testing found entire districts–such as Caldwell and Vallivue–with percentile scores in the 20s. And many children entered kindergarten already well behind students of their age around the nation.  

The State had been working on the problems, but as the coronavirus slowed businesses, Gov. Little cut education funding by $99 million. Those negotiating teacher contracts are dealing with $20 million less in teachers’ extra duty pay, $27 million less in promised raises, cuts in funding for classroom aides, and increased health insurance costs.

Districts have received Federal funds for dealing with the coronavirus, but much of that will go into computers and Internet hotspots, safety supplies, and substitutes when teachers are quarantined. 

So, once again, we’re asking teachers to do more with less. 

It’s important to understand that the role of teachers is not merely to present subject matter and issue grades.   

Their real challenge is to fuel students’ desire to learn. 

Kids must believe they can learn things that seem difficult and that doing so will make a difference in the future. Kids with parents in good jobs often underestimate the hard work it took to get there; kids with parents in hard jobs that can’t keep a family alive often have no reason to believe that hard work pays off. 

Personal attention and bonding are huge factors in convincing students that the challenges ahead are worth tackling. That’s why instructing young students online this spring was exhausting to many teachers–and the failure of many students to participate weighs on them.     

This fall teachers must tackle an obstacle course with unforeseeable twists.  

The Governor’s Public School Reopening Committee may release its recommendations today.  School districts, however, will make the final decisions–and some won’t be popular.

Masks, for instance. Can young children adapt to them?  What happens when a kid has a runny nose?  What happens when a parent insists their child will not wear one?  

Online instruction. How are teachers to give instructions to students online and in person? Preparing for both can be time consuming.  Doing both at once can be a herculean. Aides could help–if there were funding for aides. 

Busing. Can buses be made even minimally safe? Can someone check temperatures and disperse hand sanitizer before students get aboard? Will enough students opt for online instruction to allow some distancing?  And how will the buses be sanitized between uses?      

Liability. Can districts be sued if students–or their family members–suffer life-long handicaps? Districts have been held responsible for injuries. Could they now be sued for negligence if they failed to follow the state guidelines–or their own?  

Illness. What happens when a student or teacher does become ill? Businesses may require a 14-day self-quarantine of employees exposed. Will entire classrooms be closed to students? How will working parents cope? And what happens when the entire faculty is exposed? coro

Sports, music, events. A recent editorial by teacher Levi Cavener included these as “items we need to discuss,” i.e. areas where any solution may anger lots of parents and students. Cutting dangerous activities will cut student motivation and lessen chances for college scholarships. 

And, as Cavener also stated, “Schools WILL BE sources of outbreak clusters.”  Chances are that every one of Idaho’s 1,718 schools will have one or more outbreaks of coronavirus. Each one may cause the death of a grandparent, parent, school personnel.  

Participate in–and accept–district decisions. They are for the short term. Do what you can to protect your family and trust that there will be a vaccine.        

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