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Committees will shape how schools re-open, bridge digital divide

| June 18, 2020 1:00 AM

Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday the formation of two new committees to create a plan for reopening public schools this fall, as well as a plan to address the “digital divide,” a term that describes the inequity between students’ access to remote learning across Idaho.

“Despite these extraordinary circumstances, it is my intent to have schools safely reopen across Idaho in the fall, although it may look different than it has in the past,” Little said. “Both of the committees, led by State Board of Education members, can support and remove barriers to the fall reopening, provide clear expectations, and identify the tools to meet those expectations.”

The Public Schools Reopening Committee is chaired by Idaho State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield and includes participation from legislators, the State Department of Education, school district and charter school administrators, operations staff, and state health officials, among others. The committee will make guidance and resources available to school districts and charter schools in the coming weeks.

“Our goal is to successfully reopen schools in the fall and provide clear expectations for student learning and guidance to school districts as they make their decisions locally,” Critchfield said. “Districts are discussing approaches to reopening and how to navigate the learning environment. Many decisions are contingent upon developing and changing conditions.”

State Board of Education member Kurt Liebich leads the Digital Divide Committee, which includes school technology directors, administrators, business leaders, and legislators.

“When the pandemic forced the soft closure of schools and a transition to distance learning options, it became painfully clear just how wide the digital divide is,” Liebich said. “We will discuss access to devices for students and ways to improve connectivity throughout the state.”

Both committees are extensions of Little’s K-12 Emergency Council, formed in March to respond to the pandemic and advise the governor on education issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Critchfield