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About 20 Bozeman School District students and parents gathered Wednesday morning in front of the Willson School to demand schools reopen full time this fall.

The gathering followed superintendent Bob Connors’ announcement Monday that he recommends the Bozeman School Board reopen schools with in-person learning two days a week and online learning three days a week.

The school board will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday via Zoom to hear public comment and to discuss a reopening plan. Board members may vote Thursday on a plan but could also wait to decide until their meeting on Monday evening.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday, several masked students stood on the sidewalk in front of Willson School holding signs saying, “I want to go back to school” and “Help! I’m getting stoopider.” They chanted “Back to school” and “Help us get an education.” The occasional car honked as it passed on West Main Street.

Helene Hart, Bozeman High senior class president, stood behind the group wearing a Bozeman Hawks shirt and holding a copy of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report urging schools to reopen in-person this fall.

Hart said online learning this spring wasn’t effective because it wasn’t as structured as in-person classes. She also said, for some, the social isolation that came with online learning exacerbated mental health issues like depression.

“I feel like I have been robbed of my education,” she said.

A student from Chief Joseph Middle School, Weston James, said he was disappointed that, under Connors’ recommendation, he’d only see half his friends because students whose last names begin with the letters A through L would attend class in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while those with last names beginning with M through Z would learn in-person on Thursdays and Fridays.

A couple of parents voiced concerns that some families wouldn’t be able to care for their children during the days they attend online classes and that some students would miss critical services, such as meals, they receive at school.

Amy Riendeau, another parent, said she disagreed with Connors’ proposal — known as the blended model — and would like to see the district use the cohort model, which would offer students in-person instruction five days a week in groups of 50 or fewer to limit the spread of the virus.

Riendeau, an intensive care nurse at Bozeman Health, said the cohort model would be safe and would better inform how and when normal school operations could resume.

“We have to try,” she said. “We can’t live in fear and what-ifs.”

Connors, who didn’t respond to an interview request before deadline on Wednesday, leaned toward recommending the cohort model at the beginning of the summer. He ultimately decided to advise the school board to select the blended model after seeing coronavirus cases surge in Gallatin County last month.

In explaining his recommendation, he said if schools reopen fully on Aug. 31, cases could increase and the district would have to return to online-only instruction. He also said the district will use a more robust online learning platform than it did in the spring.

Connors made his recommendation this week to give parents time to plan for the school year.

The school board doesn’t have to follow Connors’ recommendation. The board also could switch plans once the school year begins depending on whether the number of COVID-19 cases increases or decreases.

Regardless of the board’s decision, parents have until Aug. 19 to sign their children up for online-only instruction.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.