TWIN FALLS — Students will alternate between online and face-to-face instruction in Twin Falls following COVID-19’s surge in the community.
The Twin Falls School District Board of Trustees voted Friday morning to move to the “orange” level of its COVD-19 operating plan. The switch begins Wednesday.
In orange, all middle and high school students will learn online on Mondays. Students with last names beginning with A-K will attend class in-person on Tuesday and Thursday, and those with last names beginning with L-Z will attend class in-person on Wednesday and Friday.
Elementary students will rotate attendance on Mondays with an 11:30 a.m. release, and will otherwise follow the same schedule as the middle and high schools.
The schedule is intended to limit the amount of contact between students and staff and ultimately reduce the spread of the virus.
The move comes a day after South Central Public Health District released its risk level assessment for the Magic Valley, which classified nearly all counties in the area as at “high risk” for virus transmission. Last week, the area set a high mark for the second week in a row with 634 new cases, an increase of 227% from four weeks ago when the area had 194 cases.
A report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force this week found that cases in Twin Falls County are rising rapidly among children aged 12-17, which “suggests outbreaks in those counties may be related to school openings.” The report recommends “change to online K-12 classes in counties and metro areas with elevated test positivity and incidence among school-age children and increasing hospital utilization.”
Trustees approved a COVID-19 operating plan in the summer and based the level of school operation on the risk assessment guidelines from the health district.
The school district has been in the yellow operating level since the beginning of the school year, and followed a normal in-person schedule with added safety precautions meant to encourage social distancing and limit spread.
As of Wednesday evening, at least 61 staff members and students have tested positive for the virus.
Trustees and administrators expressed some concerns about the impact of the decision.
Trustee Jonathan Lord said that access to affordable child care is not equal across the board, and it may be difficult for parents to find supervision for their children during the day. He also noted that it will be hard to limit contact between students while out of school.
“If we have half our student population out every day of the week and they don’t have a good place to go and they start getting together, I’m not sure that’s the greatest thing we’re going to be promoting,” he said.
Superintendent Brady Dickinson said the orange schedule is particularly hard on teachers.
“Going to orange is the hardest for everybody,” he said. “You basically have to lesson plan for half your kids in class and half your kids out, so orange is a difficult schedule.”
Trustee Jayson Lloyd said he understands the challenges and it’s a disheartening decision to make, but ultimately they need to stick to the plan and follow the guidelines of health experts.
“I feel like we want to keep students in school because that’s best for learning, it’s best for family support throughout our community,” he said. “However, I feel like we made our plan in the summer and said we’re part of the community at large and we’re going to tie our responses to the community at large.”