The Idaho State Board of Education unanimously approved a framework Thursday that will help districts and school boards decide how to reopen the Gem State’s schools this fall.

The 34-page document outlines guidelines, as well as best practices and expectations for districts, which will make the final reopening decisions, but the ultimate goal was made clear by Gov. Brad Little.

“I expect all our school buildings to safely reopen in the fall for in-person instruction,” said Little in a letter included in the plan. “Despite incredible advances in digital learning, you can never replace the value and impact of in-person interaction with a professional, dedicated teacher.”

The framework for reopening is broken into three categories based on the level of community spread of the coronavirus in an area.

Category 1 focuses on no community transmission, where school buildings open with a traditional face-to-face educational model.

If there is minimal to moderate community transmission, the district lands in Category 2, where several options are included. Schools can resume with the traditional educational model, offer a hybrid, or blended, approach, that features staggered use of school buildings, or move to a remote learning model with limited in-person instruction.

In category 3, where substantial community transmission is taking place, schools are advised to switch fully to remote learning during any closures.

The document states districts can offer online courses if a parent chooses to opt out of sending their kids to school for in-person instruction.

Each category also outlines preventative measures. In category 2, where there is minimal to moderate community transmission, options include daily health screenings of employees and students, or at-home screenings conducted by the parents.

Board President Debbie Critchfield said Idaho’s reopening plan differs from other states’ because it also focuses on areas like student learning.

The framework may still change as the pandemic progresses, Little said, but he reiterated the state is obligated to ensure kids don’t “fall through the cracks.”

“It’s not perfect, but you can’t create a perfect document at this time,” Little told the state board. “Every day the science around the COVID virus is changing. What the best practices are is changing. What we do to protect students, teachers and staff and parents is changing.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said the flexibility the plan gives to local districts is key.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” said Ybarra during a news conference with Little following the state board meeting. “When schools reopen this fall, communities will be in different stages of the pandemic. ... So I fully support the direction (the state board is taking) about local communities and districts deciding how and when to reopen.”

A committee of K-12 education stakeholders developed the Idaho Back to School Framework. The Governor’s office, the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education contributed to the document, with guidance from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Idaho’s seven local public health districts.

During Thursday’s meeting, the board also approved an implementation plan for a statewide “digital campus.”

Idaho Online will take courses and degrees from the state’s eight public higher education institutions and consolidate them into one online platform.

The first phase of the three-year plan is funded by $4 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

The digital campus is modeled after successful ones in other states.

Students in Idaho should be able to access the courses made available through Idaho Online late this fall, in time for the spring 2021 semester.

Tomtas may be contacted at or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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