Moscow schools to close facilities for extra two weeks

Children head home after the last day of school before spring break on Friday outside Russell Elementary School in Moscow.

MOSCOW — The Moscow School District announced Friday it will halt in-person instruction and close school facilities to students for two weeks following spring break in an effort to curb the potential effect and local spread of the new coronavirus.

The announcement came following a meeting between local health authorities and regional school districts. Moscow School District Superintendent Greg Bailey said the district will use a number of distance-learning strategies in order to continue the school year without interruption.

While nothing compares to in-person instruction, according to Bailey, the goal is for distance-learning days to count toward the required instructional days so they won’t have to be made up.

Spring break in Moscow runs for a week starting Monday. That would put a return to normal operations in the district Monday, April 6.

“We have a lot of students that have internet capabilities, but we have some that don’t so we’re looking at multiple ways of working with our students,” Bailey said. “We would be (doing) some online, but we would also be doing packets of work for students that parents could pick up.”

Bailey said if the district is approved for a waiver, it will receive state money as if school were still in session so that teachers can be paid and general operations can continue. Additionally, he said the district is investigating ways to continue to offer daily meals, noting some families depend on school lunches to ensure children are fed.

“We’ve applied for a waiver to ... have a program very similar to the summer lunch program,” he said. “We would actually even consider possibly, if it would work out and we get accepted for this waiver, to have it where we could take the school bus to certain clusters of students and say, ‘Hey, this time we will have a bus with sack lunches that you can come to the bus and pick up.’ ”

Parents with children in the district will need to adapt to the new approach.

University of Idaho sociology professor Ryanne Pilgeram, who has two children in the district and a third in preschool, said she’s doing her best to prepare, including deep-cleaning her house, grocery shopping and devising ways to keep her children entertained during the break. She said she hasn’t fully decided what the rules for the break will be, but she may try to limit their interactions with their friends as a social distancing measure.

“(I’m) just trying to think about keeping them busy,” Pilgeram said. “I went out and have been getting a lot of fun foods to cook to keep us busy and puzzles and thinking about projects we want to do, thinking about hikes we can do to get them out of the house, so I’m just trying to plan.”

As a UI professor, Pilgeram said it won’t be easy, but she’s fortunate that she’ll at least be able to stay home and keep an eye on her kids through much of the closure. She noted for some families living paycheck to paycheck, this may be more difficult.

Bailey said if the district determines it’s necessary, the closure could be extended further, saying the top priority for any school district is the health and wellbeing of its students. If the closure is extended, Bailey said the district would likely continue to offer instruction remotely.

St. Mary’s Catholic School, as well as Palouse Prairie and Moscow charter schools — also entering spring break this week — will close for two weeks upon return from break. All three Moscow schools said they are prepared to offer instruction remotely.

Potlatch Superintendent Jeff Cirka said his district has no plans for canceling school unless a case of the coronavirus is confirmed in the region. He said if a case is confirmed locally, either on the Washington or Idaho side of the border, district officials will consider more dramatic steps to limit spread, including school closures.

The Whitepine School District, which serves Deary and Bovill, will close school for 14 days if a case is identified within the district, but if a case is confirmed in the county they will merely limit travel to student-to-school busing. Details of measures Whitepine is taking up until that point can be found on their webpage at https://www.sd288.k12.id.us/.

Representatives from the Genesee, Kendrick and Troy school districts could not be reached Friday. Those districts did not have alerts about schedule changes or closures on their websites or social media pages Friday.

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.