Stories in this Regional News Roundup are excerpted from weekly newspapers from around the region. This is part two, with part one having appeared in Saturday’s Tribune.
MALDEN — The smoke has pretty much subsided, and with fall officially in the books and winter ahead, the victims of the Babb Road Fire gathered Sept. 23 to learn what the path ahead looks like.
Meeting in open-air tents behind the makeshift city hall which is housed in a mobile office structure, many masked — and some not — area residents heard from a variety of government officials. They outlined the steps necessary to first clean up and then rebuild following the Labor Day fire that blackened nearly 20,000 acres and destroyed an estimated 80 percent of the structures in Malden.
Gerry Bozarth from Spokane County Emergency Services moderated the event that attracted dozens of people from Malden, Pine City and the surrounding area and also featured presentations from Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers and Whitman County Public Health Deputy Director Chris Skidmore.
The cleanup effort is tough and complex, Bozarth told the audience. Efforts are underway through the state of Washington to have a disaster declaration on a national level, which will allow FEMA to help with debris removal.
Skidmore had good news to deliver, announcing that since the community is on a septic system that Whitman County will waive fees for any fixes that take place.
Of the many concerns facing residents as they first clean up and then hopefully begin the rebuilding is the availability of contractors in a very busy building boom.
Some are saying they are out six to eight weeks before they are able to do work and that puts people right about the start of the cold weather.
The United Way and the Innovia foundation are the official agencies that are coordinating the collection of monetary and other notable donations. Numerous community groups are also helping the residence at a more basic level.
— Paul Delaney, of the Cheney Free Press for the Whitman County Gazette (Colfax), Thursday
MVSD faces difficulties hiring qualified staff
ELK CITY — The Mountain View School District 244 year started with both excitement and trepidation, Superintendent Todd Fiske told the board of trustees at the Sept. 21 meeting held at Elk City School.
“Everyone has COVID concerns, and, as you can imagine, it is nearly impossible to enforce social distancing in every situation,” he said. Masks have been encouraged, but not enforced.
Fiske added it has been “very difficult” to find suitable replacements for the 31 resignations within the district.
“I have difficulty with the professionalism of resigning Wednesday, effective Friday, when the school year has started,” he shook his head. “It is a big deal. We’re trying to minimize the impact of this on our kids.”
He referred to the staffing issues as a “shell game” in order to cover classes as necessary.
“It takes a lot of time and wrangling, and there are major holes in the district right now,” he emphasized. “It’s hard to move forward and meet all the needs.”
Aside from requiring a variety of teaching and paraprofessional positions, the district is having an arduous time hiring bus drivers and substitute teachers.
“It’s really difficult for a substitute to want to come in if someone has been ill,” Fiske said. “There’s been a big jump in COVID cases in Idaho County; our district is not immune.”
Fiske said he has received a number of calls from patrons that range from imploring him, “Do not close the schools under any circumstances,” to “What are you doing keeping the schools open? You are going to kill all of Grangeville.”
He said he continues to monitor the situation with the guidance of Idaho Public Health as the school year moves forward.
“One particular case is not a trigger for us either way,” he explained. He said the decisions of a number of other districts affect MVSD, including extracurricular and scheduling decisions, including Lapwai, Orofino, Genesee and Moscow.
Fiske said an A-B attendance schedule is mostly ready, if needed, though “it has been a challenge to get that schedule to coincide with sibling and busing schedules,” he said, adding that preparations are ongoing.
When he brought up the discussion of mask wearing, trustee Casey Smith said, “Why? They do not work.”
“With all due respect, I’m going to side with science — they have been proven to help” mitigate the spread of germs and viruses, trustee Pam Reidlen said.
Fiske reminded of a parental survey prior to the start of school where a large number of parents objected to mask wearing.
“If it comes to mandatory masks,” in order to keep school doors open, Reidlen said, “parents have the option of sending their kids to school in masks or staying home.”
Fiske said he feels the discussions surrounding these issues are important. “It’s hard to navigate the middle — it’s a really tough situation,” he said.
— Lorie Palmer, Idaho County Free Press (Grangeville), Wednesday