June 26, 2020
On June 25, Jefferson County Health Department met with all of the school district superintendents for Jefferson County to discuss returning to school in the fall. The Jefferson County school districts include: Clancy K-8, Montana City K-8, Boulder K-8, Jefferson County HS, Basin K-8, Cardwell K-8, and Whitehall K-12. There are three entities that have the authority to mandate changes to how these districts operate: the federal government, the state government, and the Jefferson County Health Department.
Depending on the phase of reopening the state is in, there are different mandates and expectations from the federal, state, and local health department. I realize that changes to the school setting may be frustrating. Some people will think the impending restrictions are too much and some people will think they are not enough. The school board and administration are doing everything we can to ensure the schools can open in August and can remain open through the school year.
The Governor has given local county health departments authority over school reopening, so the district’s reopening must be in accordance with Jefferson County Health Department directives and guidelines. It is important to note that surrounding schools in Madison, Silver Bow, Gallatin, and Broadwater counties may have similar or different directives and expectations from their county health departments, so there may not be a “uniform” look to school reopening across the state.
Phase 1: A return to this phase will likely look similar to this past spring – distance learning and work packets.
Phase 3: Schools reopen as normal.
For Phase 2, where we are now, Jefferson County Health Department has communicated a number of expectations that must occur for the district’s fall reopening, provided we remain in Phase 2. The main points and outcomes include:
- LENGTH OF THE SCHOOL DAY- The district can plan for a regular length school day for K-12. To accommodate this, grades 6-12 will move to a block schedule to reduce the number of exposures between students during the day. The other option was to have 6-12 students go to school in two different groups for half days. We realize the majority of parents want their kids in school for the full day, so block scheduling was the preferable option. A block schedule is a system for scheduling middle and high school classes, which replaces the more traditional schedule of seven 50 minute daily periods with longer class periods that meet fewer times each week. Instead of 7 classes that last 50 minutes each, a student will attend only 4 classes a day, but stay in each class for 100 minutes. Each day of the week is designated an A day or a B day. Day A has 4 classes, and day B has 4 different classes. Two days for a given week can be designated A days, two designated B days, and the third day alternates between A/B/A/B/A and B/A/B/A/B. This ensures an equal amount of instructional time for A and B classes.
- SOCIAL DISTANCING - Close contact has occurred even if people maintain a 6-foot distance if the contact occurs for more than 15 minutes. As every class period is longer than 15 minutes, sitting 6 feet apart or “social distancing” won’t prevent kids from having close contact, so this is not the expectation. Instead, Jefferson County Health Department requires the district to keep accurate and strictly adhered to seating charts, so if kids or staff test positive for COVID-19, the health department can inform those who were in close contact of the exposure.
- MASKS - Masks are highly encouraged by both the Governor and Jefferson County Health Department, but not required. If a staff member or student has a pervasive cough, they will be expected to wear a mask to prevent them from coughing on others.
- SANITIZING - Sanitizing of high use areas (such as bathrooms and main doorknobs/pulls), must occur hourly during the school day. 6-12 classrooms will be sanitized between class periods. The district will need to hire an additional daytime custodian to meet these requirements.
- MEALS - Congregate eating, such as having 250 kids in the cafeteria at once, is not allowed. K-8 students will eat lunch in classrooms, so they remain in smaller groups. 9-12 students may go off campus for lunch or will be required to eat in an assigned classroom.
- RECESS - The district cannot use the playground equipment unless we can figure out a way to sanitize it between recesses. We are working on a staggered recess schedule and reinventing what recess can look like. We realize recess is essential for many reasons, so this is an important consideration.
- CLOSURES - If a staff or student tests positive for COVID-19, Jefferson County Health Department will shut the district down briefly for 2-5 days until Jefferson County Health Department can complete contact tracing, and the school buildings must be sanitized before reopening. Teachers know to prepare for these brief closures and will have a plan for how to instruct kids (digital or work packets) during these possible shorter closures.
- VISITORS – No visitors to school buildings. Unfortunately, this includes parents. The district has 450 students, so allowing parents or others to visit would potentially add 900+ people in and out of the buildings. Parents will drop off and pick up their kids outside of the school buildings. The district will be working to install an intercom at the front doors so parents can communicate with the school secretaries.
- SPORTS – No decision has come from MHSA as to the status of fall sports. We are running open gyms/fields and scrimmages during the summer, but these are all regulated by the Jefferson County Health Department. The district has to write safety plans for each event, which must be approved by the Jefferson County Health Department before each event. Through the summer, no visitors/parents are allowed at these events per the safety plans established with Jefferson County Health Department. Again, no decision has been made about the status of fall sports, so what games would look like or if we are able to have fans attend any games has not been established.
- SCHOOL NURSE - Jefferson County Health Department has recommended each school district hire a full or part-time school nurse for the 2020-2021 school year.
We have 2 months until school starts in August. Please check this webpage throughout the summer. The situation seems to be ever-changing, so it is possible that the details I have shared with you today could change in the coming months. Please be assured that I will share what I know in a timely manner. I want to reiterate that both the school board and school administration know that changes to the school setting can be frustrating. It is not within our power to open schools as usual, but we are committed to reopening and staying open as much as possible this coming school year.