* This story has been edited with new total COVID-19 case numbers for the Lewiston School District. Incorrect numbers were originally provided by school district staff members.
Two employees voiced concerns about the Lewiston School District’s COVID-19 protocols at Monday’s school board meeting.
Jamie Morton, a science teacher at Lewiston High School, read a letter from her colleague John Schaper, who encouraged the board to require masks after public health officials concluded he likely contracted COVID-19 while working at the high school.
“I spend minimal time around staff and when I am, we are in masks,” Schaper stated in the letter. “Therefore, I was likely exposed by a student. … I’ve used positivity to encourage mask wearing to comply with the district’s highly recommended mask protocol. Despite this, most of my students still do not wear a mask in my class.”
In order to stay in the “green” category, which offers traditional face-to-face learning to all students, Schaper said the school district can no longer pick and choose which COVID-19 prevention guidelines it follows.
“If we want to stay in green, we need to be doing all that we can to slow or stop the spread,” he said in the letter. “Right now, the district is stopping short of that and we are at risk. If we require masks, we increase our ability to stay in green. How many more have to get sick or how severe of a case do we have to have before we finally require masks in the classroom?”
According to Kimberly Eimers, the director of student services, 10 people have tested positive for COVID-19 within the school district. Nine of those cases were likely contracted outside of the school setting, Eimers said.
Maria Lacey, an instructional assistant in the special education program at the high school, said reminding students to wear masks in the hallways — one of the district’s requirements — has negatively impacted relationships with students.
Lacey also voiced concerns about the notification process when someone tests positive within the school district. She said she wasn’t directly informed when a student at the high school tested positive, despite having sat within 6 feet of the person.
“That kind of threw me for a loop, and I mean, it seriously affected how I felt about going to work,” Lacey said.
She indicated that another instructional assistant was not privately informed that Schaper tested positive after having worked with him and instead found out during a meeting with other staff members.
“I respectfully request we have a (notification) process and that process includes instructional assistants and custodians,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent Lance Hansen said the school district often doesn’t find out about a positive test until five days after a person is tested, and Public Health – Idaho North Central District is in charge of contact tracing.
Confidentiality laws also complicate the process. Superintendent Bob Donaldson said the school district is unable to publicly identify a staff member or student who tests positive, unless that person has signed a document allowing the release of that information. For that reason, the letters sent to employees and parents typically only include the school the person works at or attends.
“We try to make sure we are on top of it from a timely perspective, and the intent of the communications to all staff, parents or guardians is to be as transparent as we possibly can be and to tell as much information as possible at that time,” Donaldson said.
Eimers said each room is cleaned with enhanced safety protocols after every school day, so each classroom has already been cleaned multiple times before the school district learns of a positive test. Teachers are also provided with supplies if they want to clean between classes.
Several of the cases were reported toward the end of the week, Eimers said, so by Monday 48 hours had already passed. According to guidelines the school district is following, the virus can’t live on surfaces for longer than that.
In other news:
The school board agreed to reopen collective bargaining for the 2020-21 master agreement that was ratified by the district and the Lewiston Education Association in June.
The teacher’s union asked to reopen collective bargaining to discuss the use of $1.5 million the district will receive after Gov. Brad Little restored funding he had previously cut for K-12 schools.
The money can be used to provide a stipend to teachers for work they did related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two negotiating teams will meet Oct. 27. Any agreements made by the negotiators would be subject to legal review and board approval.
The board will meet with District 6 legislators at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 to discuss legislative priorities.
Three employees received Educational Support Personnel of the Year awards. Sarah Shepherd, the special services administrative secretary in the central services office, received the Non-Direct/Support Role ESP Award; Kaylin Roby, a college and career adviser at Lewiston High School received the Direct ESP Classroom Support Award; and Rhanda Bowen, the school administrative secretary at Whitman Elementary School, received the Overall ESP Award.
Tomtas may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.