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Faced with staffing challenges, Belgrade High School will be fully remote until the end of November, according to the district’s announcement.

The decision for the high school to transition to remote learning was made earlier this week and confirmed during a board meeting on Thursday.

“We had been making it work as best we can, and we just came to a point where it was educationally beneficial to go remote,” said Belgrade High School Principal Shanna Smith.

Smith said the school had been 19 teachers short for the 950-student school on Thursday and only had two substitutes available. She said the decision was made to “hit the reset button and see if we couldn’t fill our pool of subs back up.”

Belgrade Superintendent Godfrey Saunders announced the transition on Thursday, saying remote learning for the high school would go from Nov. 6 to Nov. 30.

“Please know that our goal has been, and will always be, to keep students in school as much as possible,” he said in the announcement. “The reduced number of human resources that we are facing could affect any of our schools. Please keep this in mind as we go through the year.”

In an earlier letter announcing Thursday’s special board meeting, Saunders said the decision was not “due to a rash of infections at the high school” but rather the school was unable to fully staff the building to cover classes.

“We simply do not have enough subs to cover classes, due to all absences, not just those relate (sic) to quarantines,” Saunders wrote.

Smith said a small percentage of the absences were due to quarantines but didn’t think it accounted for all of them. She said the district was still working to understand why there were so many absences and how to better recruit substitutes.

“We’ll get to the bottom of it and we’re ready to face whatever challenges it brings,” she said. “We have some work to do but at least we recognize it.”

The transition came about almost a week into the second quarter. Smith said the timing allowed the students to get to meet their new teachers, and Thursday was used as a day to prepare them for the online transition.

In three separate documents, the high school outlined expectations for students, teachers and parents during school-wide remote instruction.

Every class will have a Google classroom with all assignments posted and available via that platform. Each class will also have a daily check-in time during its regular scheduled class time.

“This is a synchronous check-in and attendance will be taken during this time. If you do not follow the check-in procedure you will be marked absent,” the student expectations document stated.

Smith said the school has offered to loan out a device to any student who doesn’t have one and is working to get hotspots to students who don’t have reliable internet access. By Friday afternoon, about 100 students had stopped by the high school to pick-up a device, Smith said.

“Our staff have been incredible about supporting our students,” she said.

As of Thursday, Belgrade High School had a total of five staff that had tested positive and 12 students that had tested positive, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which reports cumulative cases, not active cases.

During Friday’s Gallatin City-County Health Board meeting, health officer Matt Kelley said he would be meeting with the Belgrade School Board on Monday to discuss in-person versus remote learning.

Kelley also said many schools continue to struggle to find paraprofessionals and substitutes to maintain in-person learning.

He has repeatedly said he would shut down a school if it was causing an outbreak but educational settings to-date have been a reflection of what is happening in the county and are not driving the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Belgrade School District opted to begin the school year with in-person learning for all students five days a week. Smith said that time was crucial to creating connections in the classroom, and the school plans to “come back stronger.”

“We got almost 10 weeks of 100% in-person instruction,” she said. “It was great to be able to build those relationships.”

(Chronicle reporter Perrin Stein contributed to this report.)

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.