Operation Healthy Schools

Kevin Maxwell, CEO and founder of Providence Mental Health, poses for a photo with some of the 550 masks his company donated to Operation Healthy Schools, a Bozeman Schools Foundation fundraiser, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.

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The Bozeman Schools Foundation launched a fundraiser this week to raise money for the district to purchase personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

The fundraiser, Operation Healthy Schools, is collecting money to buy face masks, non-alcoholic hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaning wipes ahead of the district’s opening Sept. 8.

“It seems like it will just be this constant need and for us to be able to relieve that financial burden for the district is a great thing to be able to do,” said Judy Slate, executive director of the Bozeman Schools Foundation.

The foundation, a separate fundraising organization from the schools, wants to supplement the protective equipment and cleaning supplies the district is already buying.

“The district is purchasing those items,” Slate said. “We just want to help and make sure they don’t run out. The volume of product that they will need is huge.”

Mike Waterman, director of business services for the district, said there is not a specific line item in the budget to purchase coronavirus-related supplies but the district is tracking how much is spent. He said the district is purchasing items like masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes as needed.

“There are several federal grants administered by the state of Montana that we’re allowed to recoup those costs from,” Waterman said.

While the foundation won’t turn down donations of masks, wipes and nonalcoholic sanitizer, it would prefer financial donations, Slate said.

“It’s a lot cleaner when we get money, then we can let the district buy what they need,” she said.

Donations to the fundraiser can be made online, with a link on the Bozeman Schools Foundation’s website. The foundation plans to continue raising money throughout the school year as long as there is a need for supplies.

To kick the fundraiser off, Providence Mental Health donated a cloth mask and KN95 inserts for all 550 in-person teachers in the Bozeman School District.

“I think teachers have such an incredibly difficult job,” said Kevin Maxwell, CEO and founder of Providence Mental Health. “To have them be able to feel secure in that setting is super important.”

Maxwell, who previously worked as a school-based therapist, said Providence had also donated face masks to Belgrade and Three Forks schools.

“They’re already performing such an important job,” he said of teachers. “We want to help eliminate some of the anxiety they may be feeling.”

Slate also said it was important for the fundraiser to involve people in town, including parents.

“We’re all feeling different and weird. There’s an anxiety, frustration and fear some parents are feeling,” she said. “This is a positive thing the community can do to impact the schools.”

About 85% of parents want to get their children back to five days of in-person instruction, according to the district’s poll this summer. Slate said this was a concrete action people in the district could take to help make that happen.

During Monday’s board meeting, the district clarified its stance on masks for teachers, students and employees. Masks will be required for teachers, students and staff, according to district policy.

“We feel like the masks are important and our best way of keeping the curve flat,” said Bob Connors, district superintendent, during the meeting.

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