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Post Falls back to orange

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | October 23, 2020 3:35 PM

POST FALLS — After being in "yellow" a couple weeks and with the number of student quarantines jumping from 40 to 170 this week, the Post Falls School Board on Friday unanimously voted to return to the moderate "orange" COVID risk category during a special meeting held via Zoom.

The board decided high school should return to the hybrid learning model effective Monday. Middle and elementary schools will return to "orange" Wednesday to allow parents and guardians more time to arrange child care and to prepare work schedules for the change.

In "orange," students are split into cohorts A and B, attending school in person two days a week — Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday — with remote learning for all on Wednesdays.

The vote followed in-depth discussion about face mask requirements, contact tracing and the inability to socially distance in "yellow," which contributed to the spike in quarantines. Superintendent Dena Naccarato said contact tracing is all district staff has been able to do this week.

"We don't have the staffing to hire a contact tracing person," she said. "We don't have a contact tracing person right now."

After the vote to move to "orange," Naccarato said she wants everyone to know that the Post Falls School District appreciates and supports its teachers, "and we know they're working hard and we know this is incredibly difficult, and we know that everybody is frustrated."

"People want the school to be able to do what we used to do, which is deliver school in person five days a week, and I will tell you that I know that our teachers and our district office staff want nothing more than for us to be able to go back to school five days a week in person," Naccarato said.

But four things changed this week: The State Board of Education changed its reopening guidance, moving from three risk categories to four and eliminating a recommendation that schools go to fully remote learning under the highest risk category; Panhandle Health District moved Kootenai County from "orange" to "red;" the Centers for Disease Control changed the definition of "close contact" to now mean within six feet for 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period; and Panhandle Health District rescinded the county's mask mandate, in spite of rising cases.

"All those things affect our ability to do operations," she said. "The district is being pulled in a million different directions."

The board also unanimously voted to update language in its reopening plan, when describing that masks are not required, but "strongly recommended." This was decided after much discussion, including how it would be an "administrative nightmare" for schools to try to implement disciplinary action on the small percentage of students who refuse to wear masks.

"This is a really tough situation, I think. That's why we're all hesitating on what is really right, because none of us have the right answers," Trustee Bridget Malek said. "We are all just doing the best that we can."

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Post Falls School District Board Chair Dave Paul on Friday speculates about how to enforce disciplinary actions if a mask mandate were implemented in his district as he speaks over Zoom with trustees in a special meeting. The board voted to move the district back to "orange" with masks strongly recommended. High school resumes "orange" on Monday; middle and elementary schools will change Wednesday.