MERIDIAN — The West Ada School District has canceled school for the second day in a row after 440 teachers called in sick to protest the district’s continued holding of in-person classes.
The West Ada Education Association, the teachers union, organized the sickout in protest of the district board’s decision last week to continue in a hybrid model despite Ada County’s move into Central District Health’s “red” category, its most severe designation of coronavirus case spread.
The district, lacking enough substitute teachers to cover those positions, canceled school both days.
“We are sadly unable to safely hold school tomorrow due to supervision concerns,” district spokeswoman Char Jackson wrote by email Monday afternoon. “This includes students enrolled in Virtual School House, and students who would have been learning remotely. We are continuing to work with the West Ada Education Association to find solutions to their concerns so we can hold school Wednesday.”
A notice alerting parents of the cancellation was posted to the district’s website Monday afternoon.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Kerrieann Shearman, a parent of two West Ada students. “They can’t safely have school if you don’t have the teachers, but you can’t keep canceling school either.”
West Ada Education Association President Eric Thies did not respond to a request for comment.
School board Chairman Philip Neuhoff was among the three trustees who voted to continue holding in-person classes under the “red” designation. In a Monday statement, he emphasized the district’s plans to meet with health experts such as Dr. David Pate, St. Luke’s former CEO who now advises Gov. Brad Little on his pandemic response. The district has promised to connect Pate with teachers to discuss their concerns.
“It is my hope and belief that these efforts will not only make our schools safer, but will also help to build trust in the procedures and plans employed by the district as we move forward,” Neuhoff said. “Personally, I see the results of this process as critical to the board’s future decision-making and I hope our staff will embrace the process to work together to ensure that our schools are safe.”
The Idaho Education Association has joined the local union in criticizing the board’s plans to assess the effectiveness of COVID-19 protocols while in-person classes are held.
“In this case, the dramatic actions taken by the educators of West Ada are a last resort after the district refused to work with, and listen to, their own educators to create the best possible outcomes for students,” IEA President Layne McInelly wrote in a statement Sunday.
McInelly furthered that teachers have already told the board that social distancing is impossible in many district classrooms, creating an unsafe environment for teachers and students.
Monday classes were canceled after around 700 teachers requested sick days, Idaho Education News reported. That would have left the district 550 teachers short even after bringing in substitutes, Assistant Superintendent Bret Heller told the board.
As of Monday, the district has 215 active subs, Jackson told Idaho Ed News.
Central District Health’s school reopening categories are green, yellow and red based on average daily case rates per 100,000 population over a 14-day period. For Ada County, if there are 20 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, that means schools will be in the red zone. As of Oct. 18, the average case rate in Ada County was 22.16 per 100,000 population.
The West Ada school board’s hybrid plan means all grades will alternate in-person and remote through at least Oct. 27. The plan moved K-4 students from a daily in-person schedule to an alternating in-person and remote schedule.
School board members are also under the pressure of a recall effort aimed at removing all five trustees from office, an effort taken by parents upset with limitations the board has placed on in-person instruction.