Gallatin High School, Teachers, Students, File

Ashley Brumwell teaches Algebra 1 at Gallatin High School on Feb. 9.

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Bozeman School District won’t see many changes due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent changes to social distancing recommendations after implementing four or five days of in-person learning in its schools months ago.

The federal agency announced Friday it was adjusting its social distancing recommendation for schools from 6 feet of distance to 3 feet, allowing more students to attend in-person learning.

Chad Berg, director of special education with the district, said Bozeman schools had already made the decision to go ahead with increased in-person learning for its students well in advance of the CDC’s recent report.

“We knew we were giving up that ability to maintain the 6 feet of distance,” he said. “… We’re trying to balance out mitigation of transmission risk with having kids in school.”

Bozeman School District’s elementary students have been in-person five days a week since this past fall. Middle school students have attended in person classes since Feb. 1 and students at Bozeman and Gallatin high schools have attended classes in person four days a week since Jan. 27.

Berg said the district looked at similar research from the CDC in late November and early December when it convened a group to design COVID-19 metrics. The data they were seeing showed the difference between transmissions with distancing at 3 feet versus 6 feet wasn’t significant, he said.

“That was something that we had looked at and factored in at that time,” Berg said.

Throughout the pandemic, the school district has worked to balance educational and social-emotional value with the risk involved both for in-person learning and extracurricular activities, like sports, Berg said.

“I think this new recommendation from the CDC validates some of the work we’ve been doing with the school district to weigh out those risks and rewards,” he said.

The district continues to use the COVID-19 metrics and decision-making matrix that was developed by its taskforce in December, Berg said.

During the March 9 board meeting, school administrators expressed concern over a four-week trend in Bozeman and Gallatin high schools showing high transmission levels and instances of classroom transmission.

Interim co-superintendents Marilyn King and Casey Bertram said at the time they weren’t ready to make any recommendations at that point but would continue to monitor infection data through spring break, which ended March 19.

“What we’ve seen since that board meeting is that our case counts have gone down in each school group,” Berg said. “We’re hopeful those numbers will continue to go down.”

On March 12, the last day of school before spring break, the transmission rate for both high schools remained high compared to the community’s, according to the high schools’ dashboard.

Berg anticipated more information will be shared at the March 29 board meeting after additional data is collected this week.

“Those metrics/matrix are a living and breathing tool and we’re looking at each day and every week, and using those tools to make decisions and prompt conversations with the board and with the community,” he said.

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

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