School districts discuss changes following Kootenai County’s risk moving to ‘red’

KOOTENAI CO., Idaho – The Board of Trustees for both Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene School districts met Friday after the Panhandle Health District moved Kootenai County to the red zone.

On Friday, The Panhandle Health District reported it’s second highest day of cases since the pandemic began with 138 people testing positive.

In the last two weeks, PHD has seen five of the highest cases in seven months.

“It takes everybody. It’s not the hospital or public health. It’s everybody,” said Jeff Lee, an epidemiologist with PHD, at the Panhandle Health Board meeting on Thursday of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

However, not everyone was in it together during the meeting.

“I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not. If they want to be dumb enough and walk around out there and expose themselves and others to this… they can just do it,” said Walt Kirby, a board member with Panhandle Health.

Kirby previously voted in favor of the mask mandate back in July, but rescinded his vote. In the meeting, Kirby said he took a lot of “heat” and received many angry messages for approving the mandate for Kootenai County. Kirby is a Boundary County commissioner appointed to the board.

RELATED: Kootenai, Boundary Counties moved to ‘red’ risk category as COVID cases rise

RELATED: Panhandle Health District board lifts Kootenai Co. mask mandate despite drastic rise in COVID-19 cases

Since Panhandle Health isn’t mandating masks in Kootenai County anymore, the Post Falls School District won’t either.

Instead, they’re strongly recommending it. The superintendent did say masks are important to stop the spread in schools, but the board decided not to require it.

“The message from this office has been we are not the mask police, but we can continue to educate,” said Dena Naccarato, the superintendent of the district.

The Post Falls School District board decided to switch students to hybrid learning, after being at school full-time, in-person for two and a half weeks. The high school students will return to the hybrid schedule on Monday with elementary and middle school students on Wednesday.

Superintendent Naccarato said 170 students district-wide are currently in quarantine.

“We are creating a much safer environment for students. We’re creating a much more consistent education for them because we do not have to quarantine as many students in orange,” she said.

RELATED: Coeur d’Alene school board elevates risk level to moderate

The Coeur d’Alene School board also met Friday afternoon. A school district spokesperson says they will meet every time the health district changes risk levels, which it did on Thursday.

The board decided not to make any changes to its schedule, as it moved to hybrid learning earlier this week. The high schools reverted back to the hybrid schedule on Monday with kindergarten through eighth grade scheduled to start on October 26.

Superintendent Steve Cook said it’s a “tale of two worlds” right now between their K-8 schools and the high schools.

At one point, Lake City High School had almost 15 percent of its students in quarantine because they either had COVID-19 or were in close contact with it. Cook made the administrative decision to switch the high schools immediately.

The Coeur d’Alene School board said students and staff will be required to wear masks despite Panhandle Health lifting the mandate.

In response to the Panhandle Health Board lifting the mask mandate, Coeur d’Alene City Council will be meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday to discuss possibly requiring masks in indoor and outdoor public places. The meeting will be streamed over Zoom. To find out more information on how to watch, click here.

RELATED: Kootenai Health at 99 percent capacity, may have to transfer patients to hospitals in Seattle and Portland