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Concerned Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 parents are hosting a rally at the Portneuf Wellness Complex on Wednesday to persuade the district to allow students to go back to school full-time.

Jonny Fisher, a Chubbuck resident and the parent of a ninth-grade student at Highland High School, told the Idaho State Journal that he and many other parents are upset with how School District 25 has attempted to limit the spread of COVID-19 via a hybrid learning model, something Fisher says will leave his daughter with an inadequate education if it continues.

“If people disagree, that’s fine,” Fisher said. “But the point of this rally is to open dialogue and help people see that the current structure is not working and our current educational outlook is bleak. If going back to school full-time is not an option then our (school) board needs to come back to the table with a better option because this hybrid model is not working. I am not satisfied with the public education my daughter is getting right now and we should be expecting more out of our public school system.”

Fisher says he is someone who is anti-covid-overreaction and believes School District 25’s hybrid instruction model does not work for the majority of students in the district, adding that full-time, in-person instruction should be the standard with hybrid-learning models being an alternative for those who need or prefer them.

The rally is scheduled to last from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, said Fisher, adding that the first hour will serve as a time for attendees to gather and create signage and the last 30 minutes to an hour will involve event participants lining the sidewalk on nearby Olympus Drive while holding their signs.

From noon to 1 p.m., the rally will incorporate several speeches, including Idaho Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, who told the Journal that he’s a proponent of parents having the choice regarding what type of education they think is best for their children. Eric Moutsos, a former Salt Lake City police officer who organized a “trash the mask” rally at the Utah Capitol earlier this month, is also set to speak during the rally in Pocatello on Wednesday, Fisher said.

While Moutsos will be one of several keynote speakers during the event, Fisher explained the Pocatello rally is not a protest against wearing face coverings but such rhetoric will be part of the event.

“This is more of a rally to support full-time, in-person learning at the local schools,” Fisher said. “The anti-mask topic will be a part of this, but really we want to influence the school board’s decision when they vote on this Friday.”

School District 25 has started the school year with two different learning models, one for elementary schools and another for middle and high schools.

Elementary schools have started the year with a modified traditional instructional model, which involves students being sorted into cohort groups and receiving face-to-face instruction five days per week.

District 25's middle and high schools, on the other hand, are using an approach involving a hybrid instruction model of two days of in-person instruction every week with three days of remote learning. 

School District 25 provided the Journal with a written statement on Tuesday afternoon in response to the rally. The statement said no one wants students to return to full-time, in-person instruction more than the School District 25 Board of Trustees.

“No matter which side of this issue our community falls on, one thing is clear: We are all hoping for a return to normal as soon as possible,” School District 25 stated. “We have a responsibility as a school district for the education of more than 12,000 learners, in addition to the care and safety of those same learners and 1,700 staff members. Each instructional model outlined in our roadmap is designed to fulfill our educational promise to our community to the best of our ability while also meeting the challenging demands of our current environment.”

Additionally, the district stated, “No one wishes for all of our learners to be back in the classroom full-time with face-to-face instruction more than our board, our administrators, our teachers and our staff. We understand the hybrid schedule works better for some families than others. To that end, we have received hundreds of emails, phone calls and other correspondence expressing opinions both for and against staying the course versus returning to a more traditional schedule for all learners. We respect that families want what they deem best for their own children and we weigh that feedback with several other factors involved in making these tough decisions. Each new start of a school year comes with its own unique set of challenges and this year is no exception. We appreciate the thoughtful feedback and suggestions we have received as we continue to work to improve the delivery of remote instruction.”

The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees is set to vote on whether to remain in the current hybrid instruction model or to move to a full-time, in-person teaching model during a 9 a.m. meeting on Friday at the district’s main office on Pole Line Road in Pocatello. Utilizing the district’s roadmap for the 2020-21 school year, the board will take into consideration the level of school community spread of COVID-19 in its decision.

Southeastern Idaho Public Health Community Health Director Tracy McCulloch told the Journal Tuesday afternoon that the school board may experience difficulty making that decision considering the current coronavirus risk-level category of minimal for Bannock County, where School District 25 is located, is not reflective of the active COVID-19 cases for the region.

Last Thursday, Bannock County Commissioner Ernie Moser moved to keep Bannock County in the minimal risk-level category in accordance with SIPH’s COVID-19 regional response plan despite the fact Bannock County had, for the entire previous week, reported enough active COVID-19 cases to warrant being moved to at least the moderate risk category.

Although Bannock County’s active COVID-19 cases could have warranted being moved to the moderate risk category, SIPH’s regional response plan includes an “and/or” trigger mechanism to account for how COVID-19 is impacting local hospitals. For instance, a county could be moved to a more severe risk category if the active cases reach a particular threshold based on population and/or if the local hospitals’ intensive care bed capacity reaches 90 percent two or three times in one week.

Moser told the Journal Tuesday afternoon that he is focusing more on the “or” of the regional response plan’s “and/or” trigger mechanism, adding that he is also pushing for local schools to resume full-time, in-person instruction.

“We are looking at two parts when making these decisions — the active cases and the hospital bed usage,” Moser said. “We have not met the threshold on the hospital side of things. I know our cases are up, but I want kids to be back in school. If our cases are up and it’s hitting our hospitals hard that is what would move us up a risk category. But these kids have been together all summer and many of them weren’t wearing masks.”