Bozeman High File

Two students leave Bozeman High for lunch on March 30, 2021.

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The Bozeman School District reported fewer COVID-19 cases this week after raising concerns about classroom-based transmission before the district’s week-long spring break.

The portion of students with COVID-19 at all schools in Bozeman is lower than community infection rates, according to a report given at Monday’s school board meeting. Three weeks earlier, district administrators raised concerns about school-based infections trending at a higher rate than the community.

“I’m happy to say, even though it’s only been several weeks since that update, there have been several weeks of positive trends in the district,” said Chad Berg, director of special education, who is leading the district’s COVID-19 data collection.

As of March 25, the number of new cases per 100,000 in the past two weeks was 375 cases for Gallatin County. For that same date range, the high school rate of new cases per 100,000 was 149, the middle school rate was 226, and the elementary school rate was 180, according to the district’s data.

In addition to reporting cases lower than community rates, Berg said the past two weeks had the lowest school-related case counts of the school year, a period that included the district’s spring break from March 15 to March 19.

For the first time since the district began collecting COVID-19 data, the high schools’ COVID trends fell below what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a high risk of transmission. The elementary schools also fell below the high-risk level, while the middle school data has trended downward.

“It is a very positive improving trend that we’ve been on since we last got together,” Berg said.

Berg did acknowledge that the most recent COVID-19 surveillance report at the county level showed a slight increase in case rates among the greater community.

The 7-day rolling average of daily cases last week was 31.5 per 100,000 residents, according to the county’s weekly surveillance report — a 42.5% increase from the previous week.

Berg said he couldn’t say whether an increase in school transmission cases led to the bump in the community rate or whether the district will see an increase in school-based infections in the next few weeks due to the community’s increase in cases.

“There’s often a slight delay, so whenever we see a bump in community transmission rates, it takes a couple of weeks to see any bumps in school rates,” Berg said.

With COVID-19 data for the schools trending downward, trustees renewed a conversation about a possible pilot program to reduce the number of students placed in quarantine. Before the district saw its transmission rates climb, it had begun conversations with the health department about reducing the number of students it identified as close contacts and put into quarantine.

“We put those conversations on hold when we were hitting that peak on the graph,” Berg said. “The numbers are down now … I think we want them to stay down but we can reengage in those conversations on what a reduction of quarantines could look like.”

The district also plans to reconvene a committee that helped create the COVID-19 decision-making matrix and prioritize what data to prioritize. The task force would “take the pulse on where we are with all things COVID,” said Casey Bertram, interim co-superintendent.

Discussions for the next school year would include instructional models for the district, mask policy and a policy for COVID-19 related leave for staff.

“By July, we should have a good handle on where we need to go,” he said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.

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