Trustees for Joint School District 171 gathered for their regular meeting Nov. 16 at Orofino Junior/Senior High School, presented virtually via Zoom and YouTube.

As of Nov. 9, Idaho returns to a modified Phase II as the Coronavirus continues to sweep through communities large and small. Discussion once again was largely centered around the district’s operational plan and continued efforts to keep students and staff safe and in school.

Dr. Charity Robinson shared the latest data from Clearwater Valley Hospital (CVH) regarding the pandemic’s impact locally. For the week of Nov. 9, CVH performed 193 tests, 69 were positive. There were four Covid-related admissions.

Within the district, Superintendent Dr. Garrett explained they had 17 members of the staff out that day, having either been exposed, or testing positive. During the meeting, Garrett received a text from another teacher, relaying the message that they too, would be out. “At this rate, I don’t know how long before we will have to close a building due to a lack of staff. We’re making it work, the administration, and the staff works endlessly to cover the bases.

“We have seen the impact that wearing masks has had in bringing the trend down. While masks haven’t stopped the virus, they are not only beneficial in protecting those that wear them as well as reduce possible exposure to others. Wearing a mask also helps to reduce the length of time students are quarantined.”

Schools on the hill were not really affected until recently. Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy dismissed their cadets a week early to avoid widespread outbreak, the numbers have yet to be determined. Timberline students were asked to begin wearing masks Nov. 16.

Cavendish and Peck elementaries haven’t had any confirmed cases, but are quite isolated and if they should have one student test positive, the entire classroom/school would be out.

A dramatic rise in cases has slowed the whole process for testing, notification and tracking. The district is attempting to help where they can and works continuously to do so.

Garrett noted that Thanksgiving is around the corner, and as the holidays draw near, families gather and often travel. For this reason, and the risk it imposes as kids return to school, the board has decided to require masks throughout the district through Jan. 25, at which time the situation will be reviewed and revised if circumstances allow.

The board asked administrators of each building if students were allowed breaks from the masks. Principal Brian Lee stated that a five-minute break was given to students at OJSHS, during each period. He commented that it worked, but wasn’t always easy to manage as students didn’t always observe social distancing.

Denise Pomponio, principal at Orofino Elementary School said that her students have three recesses a day as well as breaks. Classes spread out over the grounds and play only with other classmates. Masks are not required during recess, unless children play together. “So far there has been very little non-compliance.”

Robinson was quite upfront with the board and those attending the meeting, primarily a virtual audience. She has spent a good deal of time at the hospital since Thursday. “I don’t know how long this will last, but it is not going away anytime soon.”

Superintendent’s report

Dr. Garrett commented on the progress of the audit. “We are closer to getting the audit completed.  We missed the deadline for submittal due to lack of data transfer along with delays in information exchanges between key personnel and the auditors.”

The Community High Five grant has already helped to expand the garden at OES and now is looking at purchasing a sealing machine to help Child Nutrition and the Food Pantry serve meals to those in need.

Money received from the governor’s office intended to help compensate teachers for all the additional work and preparation needed to teach this year is being reviewed to verify that all employees are correctly identified and accounted for.

In order to fall within the total, the following will be the gross pay per category of employee: 159 full time employees will receive $2175, nine part time employees will receive $1050, three new hires as of July 1, will receive a bonus of $800.

Activities for

Conference Play

Superintendents of schools in Region II met earlier to set criteria for the winter sports and activity seasons. They applied to Public Health for a waiver to allow for 60 spectators for each event. The number was derived by having 15 players for each team with two spectators each. The rules would have applied to all of Region II schools as well as St. Maries.  Superintendents had hoped the consistency would make the expectations easier to understand and follow.

Since then, with the Governor’s Order placing the state into Phase II, Public Health is no longer entertaining any exemptions or waivers.

As a result, at least for the time being, the district will not be having fans attend activities.

Heather Sparano asked to be placed on the agenda for public comment. She advocated the importance of extra-curricular activities and athletics for our youth, and asked the board not to implement any further restrictions in addition to those already required by the state.

The next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.

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