Local schools looking at options for fall

by Whitney England
Daily Inter Lake | July 27, 2020 10:35 AM

With the new school year quickly approaching, school districts in Lake County must make important decisions on whether students should return to in person classes.

Out of the six districts in the county, Polson School District is the only one to announce a detailed draft plan for the fall semester, with the other schools still looking at options. Polson has sent out guidelines for returning students to the classroom with options for the various phases of COVID-19 restrictions.

In the governor’s plan Reopening the Big Sky, Montana is currently in Phase II and according to a letter from Polson’s superintendent Rex Weltz, students attending schools in this district will return to onsite learning at 100% capacity in August. However this could change if Montana’s cases rise and the governor’s directive orders a return to Phase I.

Montana’s Phase II guidelines allow groups of 50 or more to gather, which means classes can resume. There are challenges though when it comes to larger activities such as lunch or assemblies, the specific details of how to proceed in that capacity are still being worked out.

According to the letter, Polson is planning to resume classes in person and all activities where the max of students mixing does not exceed 50 people. Travel associated with school activities is also allowed at this time. Handwashing and germ transmission prevention is to be proactively taught and encouraged, with surfaces also sanitized frequently.

Remote learning will remain available for those with health related concerns and accommodations are to be made for students who miss school for COVID-19 related reasons.

“Know that the safety and wellbeing of our students, families, staff and community continue to be our highest priority…” Weltz said in the letter. “Throughout the COVID-19 event, we have appreciated your cooperation and understanding as we work through this together.”

A full explanation of Polson’s guidelines can be found on the district’s website under the coronavirus updates.

The Ronan School District discussed a potential returning to school plan at a school board meeting on July 13. The proposal drafted by superintendent Mark Johnston featured a similar approach to Polson, including different protocols for the various phases of COVID-19 restrictions.

For Montana’s current Phase II, Ronan will consider two options. The first would be returning to onsite classes at full capacity, while limiting the use of larger common areas. The second option is to have two groups of students that alternate coming to school with remote learning days. Group one would come to school Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while group two would be onsite Tuesday and Thursday. The following week the two groups would switch days, essentially coming to class every other day.

The district will develop the plan further and vote on it at the next school board meeting in August.

For the Charlo School District, guidelines for returning students to the building are still being discussed. According to a post by superintendent Steve Love, the district put out a parent survey to get the community’s take on the best options for the kids.

The post stated that 70% of parents responded and of those that completed the survey 93% said they wanted in-person schooling no matter what it looked like. As things are still changing every day, Love said they will not finalize any plans until mid-August at the earliest.

St. Ignatius is also completing a parent survey, as all the districts listed above have done the same. The plan is early in the works and the district will present “educational options” in a board meeting in late July.

The school is also installing a thermo camera system in order to be able to scan student’s temperatures automatically throughout the day in hopes to be able to catch any potential illness early on.

Both the Arlee School District and Two Eagle River School have not released any information yet on the options for returning students to school.

Reporter Whitney England may be reached at wengland@dailyinterlake.com