Prior to addressing the current status of the district regarding Covid, Dr. Michael Garrett, Superintendent for Joint School District 171, in his most recent update via YouTube released Sept. 11, expressed his sentiments for those families impacted by recent wildfires. “Our hearts go out to those losing homes and fighting the fires. It’s been a very difficult time for a lot of people. Hopefully we can get this under control, get things managed and people can get back to their routines and get those homes rebuilt. Thank you to all those workers and volunteers for their support.”

OJSHS and OES

move to yellow phase

Beginning Sept. 14, the district will move into the ‘yellow’ phase of school plans for Orofino Junior/Senior High School (OJSHS) and Orofino Elementary School (OES), while Timberline Schools, Peck and Cavendish elementaries remain in the ‘green’ phase.

Hours before the special called school board meeting on Sept. 8, Garrett had received a recommendation from Carol Moehrle, Director for the Public Health District for North Central Idaho to consider moving into the yellow phase of school plans. She also stated that though Public Health gives input and guidance, decisions are up to the superintendent and school board. The board reviewed the letter and made the decision to move into yellow for now, with the hopes of returning to green soon. 

Garrett said he hoped to clarify recent developments within the district, as he believed there is quite a bit of misinformation circulating throughout the community.

Garrett confirmed that “Clearwater County is still in the green phase, due to the number of cases per capita. Yet, within the school, we are well within guidelines of moving to yellow,” said Garrett. “We proceed to look at the trends. We currently have some positive cases in quarantine to include those quarantined from exposure.

“In addition to waiting to see that trend begin to decline, we are waiting for test results. We will continue to review our plans every two weeks and keep the public informed. If we find we need to act before the next meeting, we will.”

More about ‘yellow’

Garrett went on to explain the major differences in the yellow phase. “We offer an online option for those students who are ill or quarantined; we also ask that students staff, and visitors wear face coverings in the building and other circumstances when it is not possible to maintain social distancing, such as on buses, in the hallways, or crowded classrooms.

“We are not requiring masks 24/7, but we are trying to use common sense. We will take breaks, we’re not trying to enforce wearing masks 100% of the time, I know this has been a huge concern. We want to corral, maintain, and reduce this virus and hope to have the support of our community as we work through this.

Another difference in the yellow phase are the guidelines for Idaho High School Activities Association or IHSAA, which limits the number of spectators allowed to attend an event. Guidelines are set for groups of people of 50 or less. But Garrett used the example of two football teams having as many as 50 players or more in itself, “so we are asking that only the player’s immediate family attend and try to distance as much as possible”.

For indoor activities such as volleyball, people will be asked to mask, with the exception that space and the number of people in attendance allow for safe social distancing, which Garrett said would be acceptable.

For more information on the IHSAA guidelines, visit their website: https://idhsaa.org/. Click on the ‘Fall 2020 Guide’. Again, activity plans will also be frequently reviewed and updated.

Keeping within compliance of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (the health laws created to protect people’s privacy) Garrett said he felt the need to elaborate on the reasoning behind the board’s decision to resort to school-wide online learning for the past three-day week of school at OJSHS.

“Normally we would have stayed within the yellow guidelines with online learning reserved only for those students with medical conditions or those who are ill or quarantined. However, at the end of the week prior to the board’s decision we had 14 staff members either positive or quarantined, due to exposure to those who tested positive to Covid.

We also had some students test positive and have quarantined around that. 

“It would be very difficult to find substitutes to fill some of the unique positions that we have. In this case, the board didn’t see any other immediate option feasible.

“I hope this information helps. We want to follow the guidelines and keep kids in school as much as possible, as well as our workforce.

“It’s been a little disheartening to see some of the division we have within the community. People are voicing their comments or their opinions, which is fine, I respect that, but I ask that we respect each other and move forward. Let’s try to keep kids in schools and their activities going as much as possible. Let’s keep our staff and community safe.

“We appreciate all of those supporting us and staying positive.”

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