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To give parents, teachers and students some idea of how public schools will operate this fall, the Bozeman School District released Wednesday a timetable for decisions — that all depend on what’s happening with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would love to be able to forecast the future and say this is what we are going to do,” Superintendent Bob Connors said, but added, “I cannot predict where we will be or how the COVID-19 virus will be affecting us on Aug. 31.”

The “Roadmap to Opening the 2020-2021 School Year” says that the 7,100-student school district intends to return to in-person teaching when school starts Aug. 31.

About the only thing that’s for sure in the plan is that the ribbon-cutting to officially open Bozeman’s second high school, Gallatin High, will be held on Aug. 17. The $93 million school is nearly finished, but contractors are still working and a final certificate of occupancy hasn’t been issued, said Todd Swinehart, facilities director.

The governor closed Montana schools in mid-March to help stop spread of the coronavirus, and Bozeman teachers and students spent the rest of the school year teaching and learning remotely.

Several weeks ago the governor moved Montana from phase one — with its stay-at-home orders and widespread business closings — to phase two, where businesses are reopening and people are supposed to avoid crowds, wear masks and stay 6 feet apart.

Virus numbers plummeted during phase one, but are surging in phase two, dampening hopes of soon reaching phase three, where life would return largely to normal.

The Bozeman schools plan says if we’re still in phase two by Aug. 7, then schools could use “cohort learning” — breaking kids up into groups of 50 or so that would stick together, instead of having everyone at school intermingle, to better contain any outbreaks.

In elementary schools, two classes would be paired together. In middle schools and high schools, students would use block schedules.

Or if Bozeman is still in phase two, the district could switch to “blended learning” — where kids attend school in person half the day and then learn at home by computer half the day.

Or schools might use a combination of cohort and blended learning.

If Montana moves to phase three by Aug. 21, all schools would go back to traditional in-person classes.

But if the virus gets so bad that the governor or Gallatin City-County Health Department orders schools closed again, teachers and students would have to go back completely to remote learning.

“We’re planning for all contingencies,” Connors said.

A survey will be sent out to parents next week, Connors said, to ask which scenarios they’re comfortable with or would refuse to participate in.

If Montana is still in phase two by Aug. 12, and if the Montana High School Association and county health department allow it, sports practices and games might be held, but crowds wouldn’t be allowed, the roadmap says.

“We’re doing our best to calm some fears, to show everybody we’re working on this,” Connors said. Administrators are working at Willson School and sharing ideas with other large AA school administrators, he said. “These are uncharted waters.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.