TSD 401 School Board Navigates COVID Challenges

At a special board meeting Monday night, the trustees of Teton School District 401 heard from Eastern Idaho Public Health, Teton Valley Health and the district’s own administrative team, including the head of the Teton Education Association, regarding last week’s spike in
school-related coronavirus incidents.

Action taken includes:

  • Due to staff shortages at Driggs Elementary School, the board unanimously approved that school’s closure Wednesday and Thursday, 30 and Oct. 1. This Friday, Oct. 2, is a Professional Development Day so there is no classroom instruction for students district-wide. (DES families were notified about this decision directly on Monday night through the Infinite Campus notification system.)
  • The board directed Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme to make any school-closure decisions related to illness at least 24 hours in advance. This will allow parents more time to work out the logistics of dealing with such a closure. (In severe winter weather, that decision is often made in the pre-dawn hours the morning of the closure, which can force families to scramble.) Woolstenhulme and DES principal Allen Carter will determine over the weekend whether Driggs Elementary will open as planned on Monday, Oct. 5.
  • After each principal spoke about the situations in their individual schools, the board directed the admin team to prepare additional information for its next meeting, 12, on the following items:
    • A school-specific framework detailing challenges and possible solutions
    • A close examination of the district’s plan regarding substitute teachers and other needed staff members
    • Additional strategies regarding how the expectations of students and staff can be better enforced and communicated – these expectations are to stay home when sick; wear a mask inside buildings, on buses, and anytime outdoors when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained; to stay 6 feet apart whenever possible; and to wash hands frequently and with hand
  • The board removed specific numbers from the School Reopening Plan, adopted August 17, to reflect the EIPH risk levels that agency adopted shortly after the TSD plan was approved. Rather than needing 24 active cases per 10,000 population in Teton County to move into the high-risk level, the revision adheres to the EIPH level (50 active cases per 10,000 population in all seven counties in EIPH, and other considerations like hospital capacity).

As of the beginning of the meeting, Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme reported that a total of 15 positive cases and 88 possible exposures, of either students or staff members, had been confirmed. This included three more positive cases at Driggs Elementary and five possible exposures at three other schools from yesterday. (The two DES students and one DES staff member here had already been quarantined.)

James Corbett of Eastern Idaho Public Health and Infectious Disease Specialist Nikki Ripplinger of Teton Valley Health answered questions from the board. Woolstenhulme emphasized that TSD 401 is responding with its protocols as soon as information is received from a parent or staff member regarding a positive case or possible exposure, not waiting for confirmation from EIPH.

Focusing on the immediate challenge of COVID response, the trustees set aside the original purpose of Monday’s special meeting, which was to discuss the district’s Strategic Plan. School board vice-chair Shannon Brooks Hamby was charged with determining when the board could reconvene for that session.

The meeting was livestreamed on the Teton School District 401 Facebook page and both sections of the video are archived there.