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Idaho school district to reopen despite health guidance

| August 17, 2020 12:49 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A school district in southwestern Idaho has announced plans to reopen its schools during the coronavirus pandemic despite recommendations against doing so from local health officials.

The New Plymouth School District Board voted 4-1 on Aug. 10 to reopen classrooms five days a week to about 1,000 students starting Aug. 24, the Idaho Statesman reported Monday.

However, Southwest District Health reported that Payette County has the highest level of community spread, which comes with a recommendation to close school buildings.

New Plymouth is located in Payette County, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Boise.

Board Chairman Marc Haws scrutinized the community’s latest COVID-19 data, reviewed a parent survey, and weighed the risk of the coronavirus against the impact of more lost time in the classroom and did not find a compelling reason to keep the schools closed.

Haws said the district considered recommendations from the local health department but argued that the school board has the ultimate responsibility to open or close the schools.

“We are a public board with public responsibilities to the parents and the students in our community,” Haws told the Idaho Statesman. “And we don’t abdicate our responsibility to statisticians in Nampa or Boise or someplace else.”

New Plymouth Superintendent David Sotutu said everyone at the schools will be required to wear facial coverings and practice social distancing. Sotutu also said masks will be offered, sanitation procedures will be increased and students will have the option to learn solely online.

“I imagine there will be a lot of people watching our community to see what happens,” Sotutu said. “We are going to do the best we can with the guidelines and the equipment we have.”

Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.