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The Bozeman School Board voted to approve metrics to consider before schools move to five days of in-person instruction, with debate over how much weight is given to coronavirus case data.

After voting to stay in the blended learning model with target transition dates last week, the board discussed what guidelines would be used to evaluate the safety of a transition into in-person learning or into 100% remote learning.

“The ability to step in with the three different grade bands will allow us to monitor and make adjustments,” Superintendent Bob Connors said.

Connors said a transition to full in-person learning would be halted, and remote learning would be implemented based on a series of questions: Has the health department or governor recommended or required schools to close, and is the district unable to staff buildings?

He said the model of instruction would be reexamined if the answer to any of those questions was yes. He outlined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data to be monitored.

Throughout the meeting, board trustees debated how much importance COVID-19 data should have in deciding whether to open.

“I see a blindness here in not considering the (COVID-19) data,” said Trustee Douglas Fischer, who voted against the motion.

“We’re dealing with a pandemic that has cost 200,000 lives. I can’t support not factoring that in.”

Trustee Tanya Reinhardt asked the board not to pass a motion based on the questions presented by Connors.

“I feel like we’re going to tie our hands or the district’s hands tighter than we need to,” she said. “It’s unclear. I just think we’re putting together some wishy-washy motions.”

Other trustees said they felt the metrics had coronavirus concerns embedded in them, with social distancing when possible and mandatory masks being practiced at the schools.

“COVID is a part of it,” said Chairwoman Sandy Wilson. “We’re just not looking at the county numbers that I’m not sure what they mean to us.”

During public comment, some parents also expressed confusion on what the blueprint included.

“It needs to be a little bit more specific on what the metrics are, as other parents have mentioned,” one parent commented.

The motion, proposed by Trustee Andy Willett, passed 6 to 2, with Fischer and Reinhardt voting against it.

The transition dates prekindergarten to fifth grades are Nov. 2. Middle schools are the start of the second trimester, or Nov. 23. High schools are the beginning of the second semester, or Jan. 25.

District administrators also outlined how identification and notification of positive cases associated with the schools would be handled.

Once a case is discovered, the Gallatin City-County Health Department, with support from the school district, would begin contact tracing. School staff would then send out quarantine letters, including a start and end date of the quarantine, to individuals who came in close contact with the positive case.

The school will also send out a non-contact letter to the school-wide community, informing parents, staff and students that there was a positive case in the building.

Chad Berg, director of special education with the district, said it would not be feasible to enroll students into the Bozeman Online School for their two-week quarantine period. Instead students would maintain the enrollment with their existing in-person teacher but could access learning through the online platform through the duration of quarantine.

The vote on transition metrics came a few days after the Gallatin County’s Health Officer Matt Kelley said the county was in its “third surge” of the coronavirus pandemic, with 66 new cases associated with Montana State University last week.

There have also been a handful of cases connected to K-12 schools in the previous week, with one private school closing after detecting a positive case within its school.

As of Friday, there was one case associated with Gallatin High School, one with Bozeman High School, one with Belgrade High School and one with Emily Dickinson Elementary School, according to the health department.

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