Support Local Journalism


The Bozeman School Board postponed its scheduled board meeting Monday, raising concerns among some parents over the district’s plan to reopen the elementary schools next week.

Prekindergarten to fifth grades will be the first of the grade levels to transition to five days of in-person learning on Nov. 2, as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Gallatin County with three record daily case counts reported last week.

“We do cancel meetings as we go along, based on a lot of reasons,” said Sandy Wilson, chair of the school board.

She said Monday’s meeting was postponed because there were only two items on the agenda and one of them had been pushed back earlier in the week. She said with a small agenda scheduled, the board and district administration decided to postpone the meeting until Nov. 9.

Wilson said the board has received several emails from concerned parents asking why there would not be a board meeting before the elementary schools were scheduled to return to full in-person instruction.

She said she appreciated their input and the board heard their concerns. But the trustees had already voted on moving forward with the transition dates for the three school levels at an earlier meeting.

“The meetings are held to take care of school business and the school business we were going to take care of can be taken care of in November,” Wilson said.

She encouraged parents to continue emailing the district if they had concerns, saying trustees read the emails they received.

Three weeks after the prekindergarten to fifth grades transition, middle schools will join at the start of the second trimester, or Nov. 23. The high school will be the last school level to move to full in-person learning with the start of the second semester, or Jan. 25.

The board voted for a second time in approval of the transition dates at their last board meeting on Oct. 12.

Since the last board meeting, COVID-19 cases in the county have continued to rise, with the newest record daily case count set Sunday when 114 new positive cases were reported, according to the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

Last week, the school district averaged 24 adult staff and 130 students in quarantine, according to its daily quarantine and isolation tracker. Friday had the highest number of students in quarantine that week, with 161. The numbers for Monday had not been reported by press time.

Steve Johnson, deputy superintendent of operations, said the schools had made progress in its custodian and substitute teacher shortages. He said the district had recently hired six new custodians and it had implemented a new incentive program to encourage substitute teachers to be available to teach more consistently.

“We’re not sure if it’s going to be the answer,” he said of the program, which will be evaluated in December for its effectiveness. “But we have made progress there.”

He said the district also decided to increase the pay for teachers who substitute for other teachers during their prep hours.

“That’s a real delicate thing because we don’t want our teachers to get burnt out and stressed but we also want to recognize the work they’re doing and increase the pay they’re getting during their prep hours,” he said.

Johnson said a letter will be sent out to parents detailing what can be expected when the elementary school transitions next week and the middle school follows on Nov. 23. In addition to details on school transportation, masks and absences, he said the district will let parents know they can’t expect teachers to have the capacity to virtually engage with the students who are absent while teaching their full class in-person.

“The teachers will do what they can, they also do to make sure there’s no kid left behind but at the same time they can’t be expected to offer the same level of service to the students who aren’t in class,” he said. “We can’t continue to put that pressure on them.”

Aaron Wernham, a parent to a sixth- and 11th grader, was one of the people to email the board when he heard the meeting had been canceled. He said Monday’s meeting would have been an important one because of the increasing coronavirus cases and the plans to reopen the elementary schools.

“Because COVID-19 is now spreading far faster than it was when the board last met, this meeting would have offered a critically important chance to review the status of the pandemic and the data on health care, public health and the school system’s capacity to manage it,” he said in an email to the Chronicle.

Johnson said things have been changing really rapidly in recent months and the district has made adjustments since it first drafted it’s return plan over the summer.

“We’ve had a lot of meetings to make sure we’re bringing the students back in the safest way we can,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of the next school board meeting. It is Nov. 9.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.