Dear TFSD #411 Parents, Students, and Staff:
Since the TFSD #411 Board of Trustees’s decision to move to the orange schedule on Wednesday next week, we have received a number of questions and comments. This letter will hopefully explain the decision and answer many of the questions we have received. We know the orange designation is a challenge for students, staff, parents, and patrons and we want to be transparent about the reasons for the decision.
The community risk level in Twin Falls for Covid-19 was raised to “high” last Thursday by the South Central Public Health District (SCPHD). According to the SCPHD, over the past two weeks, the Covid-19 case average in Twin Falls is now the highest it has been since the start of the pandemic as we have had more cases than all of March and April. In our schools, we have experienced 25 positive tests (students and staff) in this same two-week period and have others out with symptoms, in quarantine, and/or awaiting test results. In addition, the hospital is struggling due to the number of hospitalized patients and a lack of staff members available due to sickness. SCPHD’s Community risk assessment can be found at: https://www.phd5.idaho.gov/images/Coronavirus-Page/Risk-Levels/10-08-2020_Risk-Assessment3.pdf. In addition, a recent report from the White House recommended Idaho schools in high transmission areas (which included Twin Falls) consider moving classes online: https://www.idahoednews.org/news/white-house-coronavirus-task-force-recommends-moving-some-idaho-schools-online/
The TFSD #411 School Board of Trustees reviewed information and recommendations provided by the SCPHD and voted to support the plan created by the HEAL Task Force over the summer. The plan developed by the HEAL Task Force directly links the School District’s “operational color” to the color of the Community Risk Assessment Report. Ultimately, the Board felt we need to follow guidance from our hospital and the SCPHD because they determine the overall Covid-19 health risks for our entire community. The SCPHD determines risk by evaluating many metrics which include the prevalence of community cases, positive test rates for Covid-19, location of outbreaks, and the resources of health care providers and facilities. The SCPHD releases updated community risk assessments every two weeks and will release its next assessment on October 22, 2020.
In order to make the transition to the orange protocol as unobtrusive as possible, we chose to switch on Wednesday, October 14th. The school calendar already has next Friday (10/16) off as a staff workday and the following week there is no school on Thursday 10/22 and Friday 10/23 due to parent-teacher conferencing. Making the change on October 14th adds another 2-3 days away from school during this two-week period. Hopefully, during this time the community risk assessment returns to yellow; however, this will require everyone to do their part to reduce the spread here in Twin Falls.
Based on the School Board’s conversation, I know I speak for them when I say that we share your frustration with the current situation and hope this schedule is temporary. The Board and district staff are very concerned about the impact shifting to the orange protocol may have on students and families. Because of this, our teachers and staff will continue working hard to help kids learn regardless of the operational plan we are in while at the same time paying attention to the unique stresses and needs this pandemic creates. The Board and administration hope we as a community can get the numbers down and avoid moving into full remote learning, as has happened in some other places in the state. As you look around Idaho right now districts are moving between virtual and face-to-face instruction based on the risk assessment and recommendations of their local health department. The Idaho Back to School Framework from the State, which provides recommendations for all Idaho school districts, is a modeled system of transition between face-to-face, hybrid, and fully online learning based on the rate of community transmission. Districts have and will move between these models as the risk designations change. We sincerely hope the orange designation is temporary and that the metrics used to evaluate community risk improve. However, this will only happen if we all do our part to lower the number of cases in the community.
We know the orange schedule creates challenges for families and our staff. For our part, we will continue working hard to provide support to help all students be successful. If you have questions about support during this time, please reach out to your student’s school.
Dr. Brady D. Dickinson