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Coeur d'Alene students return to classroom with blended learning model

The learning model is in addition to face mask usage at schools and other social distancing measures.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Thursday marked the first day back in class for some Coeur d'Alene School district students.

Only ones whose last name started with the letters L through Z, however.

Students with last names in the other half of the alphabet started on Monday.

The alphabetical split is part of Coeur d'Alene School's approach to the start of the school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened over 2,400 people in Kootenai County since last spring.

Under the district's blended learning model, students with A through K last names attend classes in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and students with L through Z last names on Thursday and Friday. On the days students aren't in class, they're expected to complete remote learning.

The learning model is in addition to face mask usage at schools and other social distancing measures.

 "It's been great to see the kids. We've missed them for so long," said Jennifer Cleave, a fifth grade teacher at Dalton Elementary.

While Cleave described a math problem to her students on Thursday morning, students were seated strategically around the room to accommodate social distancing as much as possible.

"It's a little challenge logistically just to make sure we're distancing ourselves and teaching out kids how to distance themselves," Cleave said.

Both Cleave and Dalton Elementary principal Jody Hiltenbrand noted that a vast majority of Dalton students weren't having problems wearing face masks or weren't reluctant to don face coverings.

"It's been hard for a few kids. But we've tried to teach them the reason why we do wear our masks," said Cleave.

Under the district's plan, students are also allowed to remove face coverings during "mask breaks" over the course of the day. The breaks take place either outside or in larger rooms or gymnasiums where students can spread out.

On Wednesday, the district announced a coronavirus case associated with Skyway Elementary in Coeur d'Alene. prompting 24 people being asked to quarantine.

CDA Schools said in a Facebook post that the individual had close contact with 13 students and 11 members of the staff who were asked to quarantine. The district didn't clarify if the positive test was a student or staff member.

Other changes at Dalton Elementary prompted by the pandemic include different ways students are able to check out library books. Rather than having students congregate at Dalton's library and thumb through shared books all at once, the school's librarian has started carting various books to each classroom.

"That's a challenge. But it's totally fine because the kids are here," said library manager Sheila Fuchs.

After showing students what books are available using a rolling book cart, Fuchs said she planned to share with students how to reserve and check out books using the school's online catalog.

"When those kids came back, nothing else mattered," said Fuchs. "Everything went away. It was fine. So I'm glad we're back."

Coeur d'Alene's school board is set to discuss the district's current operating level and learning model next Monday in addition to looking over new data from the Panhandle Health District, a district spokesman said. It wasn't clear if the board planned to make any changes to the district's operating plan, however.