By Superintendent Sarah Quilici
I run marathons. Marathons take grit, stamina and perseverance. Many aspects of COVID-19 have been compared to a marathon.
I do not run with hurdles. The process of re-opening schools during the COVID-19 epidemic is comparable to clearing hurdles. There are many layers and factors, and the pieces and parts change frequently. In order to get traction, and run faster, there are hurdles that must be cleared.
On April 23, Gov. Brad Little released his “Rebound Idaho Plan” to begin re-opening Idaho in stages, starting May 1.
One of the aspects missing from his order was schools. During a press conference, Gov. Little said there was nothing in his plan to prevent schools from re-opening. He directed the media to the Idaho State Board of Education’s guidelines for re-opening.
On May 4, the Idaho State Board of Education updated its guidelines to state that local districts should work with their local health departments on re-opening plans.
Part of these plans require cleaning and disinfecting protocols. There are also plans for vulnerable staff and students, and plans if a COVID-19 case is confirmed in the schools.
As private schools, Idaho Catholic schools are not regulated by the Idaho State Board of Education, but we do consider what the board is asking of public schools and try to meet or exceed its guidance.
Bishop Kelly High School was the first Idaho Catholic school to submit a plan to Central District Health requesting to open so it could serve those students struggling with distance learning.
Bishop Kelly opened on six (not consecutive) days for students who were struggling.
Before opening, BK created a plan that detailed how students would enter and leave the building, as well as how they would be spaced while in the school.
The plan also outlined cleaning protocols and a strategy if there was an identified case of COVID-19 in the building.
Central District Health Department issued BK a letter of authorization before it moved forward with its plan.
St. John Bosco Academy also made plans to open its doors to its junior- and senior-high students for the last two weeks of the school year.
St. John Bosco worked with the North Central Health District to get a letter of endorsement for its plan.
With its small class sizes, St. John Bosco Academy was able to bring back all junior high and high school students while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Sacred Heart in Boise and Sts. Peter and Paul in Grangeville are also planning the return of small groups of students to campus, and Holy Family in Coeur d’ Alene is considering options.
All Idaho Catholic schools want to help their students succeed, and they know that face time with school employees can help with that effort.
These are not easy decisions. An important factor in deciding whether to re-open is how much time is left in the school year.
Many Idaho Catholic schools end their school year before Memorial Day, May 25.
Another factor is parents’ willing-ness to send their children to school, not to mention the health of the staff and students.
All our schools are working within Rebound Idaho guidelines to plan celebrations for graduations and First Holy Communions.
Many are planning to have families come in to return textbooks and computers and pick up remaining school supplies.
Now that the 2019-20 school year is ending, Idaho Catholic schools are setting our sights on being ready for fall. There are several unknowns regarding next school year. We want to be prepared to safely teach students.
In the meantime, teachers will receive professional development over the summer on how to teach effectively online, in case that is necessary during the next school year. Teachers will also have more time to reflect on this school year and adjust.
Even though schools will be planning different scenarios in which to serve students, all Catholic schools in Idaho are enrolling for the fall. They look forward to the opportunity.