Longfellow Elementary School

Third graders play on the monkey bars during recess on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, at Longfellow Elementary School. This was the first week that elementary school students in the district are attending only in-person classes.

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The Bozeman School Board will not reconsider its move to five days of in-person learning or adopt new metrics for decision-making at its next meeting.

Despite receiving requests from parents, the board leadership decided not to add an agenda item discussing the district’s transition to in-person learning at the board meeting next Monday, according to trustees and district administrators.

“We decided as a board that we have a direction for transition dates and have established informational metrics,” Trustee Greg Neil said. “At this point, we are continuing in transitioning into the next dates as established as a board.”

In September, the board approved school level transition dates and confirmed those dates at a meeting Oct. 12. Elementary schools were the first to move to full in-person learning on Monday, middle schools are scheduled to transition on Nov. 23 and high schools will join on Jan. 25.

Neil said the board plans to move forward with the remaining transition dates as planned.

Those who submitted agenda requests to district administration and board trustees received an emailed response from the three deputy superintendents. In a copy obtained by the Chronicle, the email said all requests were discussed with board leadership, per board policy.

“A decision was made to not add the agenda item to the November 9th board meeting,” the email said. “Board leadership sets the agenda for each board meeting and at this time, the Board does not plan to reconsider its decision.”

Hilary Parker, parent to a fourth and 10th grader in the district, said she was one of the parents who emailed the district asking them to discuss clearer metrics at the next meeting.

“My heart and my energy is with all of the decision-makers in this process, but it makes no sense to me to have no clear metrics,” Parker said.

In an earlier meeting, the board approved three metrics to determine if schools would move to 100% remote. Those criteria were if the governor ordered schools closed; if the county health department ordered schools closed; and if schools were unable to staff the building and teach classes.

Many parents have urged the board to change how it determines if schools should transition to in-person learning. During public comment at last Monday’s board meeting, people asked the board to add school-specific data reported by the Gallatin City-County Health Department into the district’s reopening plan.

During that meeting, Shannon Haish asked that the return to school be a consistent item on the board’s agenda so that it could be revisited more frequently based on current coronavirus data.

The data, based on indicators recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are similar to what the county already reports. One of the main differences is the school specific data looks at a two-week period and is designed to help schools determine whether to open or close, according to the CDC.

In the three CDC-recommended indicators, Gallatin County has topped the highest risk of transmission in schools category, according to the health department’s report.

People in support of adding the CDC data argue the three criteria outlined by the board don’t capture the virus’ spread in the county.

“Those are situations. Those are developments. Those aren’t metrics,” Parker said of the district’s three criteria.

She said she and other parents would like to see the board at least discuss adding the data reported by the county to how it makes decisions.

“This is important because if we don’t establish metrics than we don’t know if something isn’t working,” Parker said, adding that parents are left struggling to plan as classes transition in and out of remote learning.

Parker said she respects the board members for their service, and, like many other families, is spending time trying to support her children’s schools and their teachers.

“I want to figure out what we can agree on and work together in the same direction,” she said.

Neil said the board receives updates from the county health department, which shows schools are not driving transmission in Gallatin County.

“We received data from schools that suggest the transmission mirrors transmission in our community,” Neil said.

On Wednesday, Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley told the Chronicle the health department was not seeing cases in educational settings that were higher than rates throughout the county. But the rate of growth “in the rest of the community is really significant and is really scary,” he said.

Neil said the system established by the district is meant to transition in and out of remote learning depending on the contact tracing needs and the number of cases in a school. He pointed to what happened with Irving Elementary and Chief Joseph Middle School this week, which both moved students to remote learning.

He said the flexibility allowed the district to do what’s best for the greater good of the students and educate the others in person who weren’t in a short-term remote learning situation.

Neil said it wasn’t a surprise to see the two schools temporarily move to remote learning and it’ll likely continue to happen as the district learns to “coexist with COVID.”

“As long as we can go remote for a short time, contact trace, and then reopen, I think that’s the best thing we can put forward to educate children,” he said.

Neil said the board has heard from parents and teachers on both sides of the return to school issue.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from elementary parents and teachers that are thankful to be back full time. We’ve also heard from concerned parents and teachers regarding the return to five-days,” he said. “We definitely hear from both sides.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Hilary Parker's last name.

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