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Now that the model for how often students will be in class to start the year is decided, the school district can begin making more plans.

How long will this last? Who will attend on which days? How will contact tracing happen in schools?

One question Bozeman School Board trustees answered Monday night centered on the day school starts.

After voting to begin the year with students in school only two days a week, the board voted to delay the school year by a week.

The 8-0 vote pushed the start from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8, after Labor Day. The extra time is for teachers to receive five extra days of training for a new learning management system, or software package, called Canvas. The board voted to buy Canvas for three years to improve instruction, especially online.

Teachers will still begin work Aug. 26 so instead of having three days to prep for the year, they’ll have eight. In the spring, when remote learning began, platforms the district used like Google Classroom had several glitches. A team of 45 teachers, principals and administrators vetted four software systems and picked Canvas.

“Teachers need a lot more time of training on the model and on the learning management system,” School Board Chair Sandy Wilson said. “That week, that could do it for our staff.”

The way the school year begins may not be how it finishes. The district’s goal is to eventually move to the “cohort” model, which would bring students back in person five days a week.

But that depends on how the coronavirus spread is maintained locally. On Tuesday, Gallatin County reported three new cases, bringing the seven-day average for new cases down to 8.7.

Wilson said there’s no date set for when the “blended” model will be reevaluated since the district will view data and trends rather than basing decisions around arbitrary dates.

Under the plan, half of the students would attend Monday and Tuesday while the other half attends Thursday and Friday, potentially determined by last name. Wednesday would be used for teacher preparation, deep cleaning and working with struggling students. Which students that would include is to be determined.

“All those details we can get into now that a decision was made,” Wilson said.

Nancy DesRosiers, president of the Bozeman Area Special Education Parent Teacher Association, said it’s smart to dedicate time to students who may need extra attention.

She appreciated the school district’s understanding and acknowledged the challenge for special education students to accomplish goals for their individualized education plans with less in-person class time.

“From the perspective of a special ed parent,” DesRosiers said, “I think the most difficult thing is going to be child care and meeting all their needs as far as socially and emotionally.”

At Monday’s school board meeting, superintendent Bob Connors said the transition to students in-person classes five days a week could take three weeks. He added the delayed start date wouldn’t affect graduation since the board previously voted to base graduation on proficiency rather than the old requirement of “seat time.”

Matt Kelley, Gallatin City-County Health Department officer, said limiting class sizes to smaller groups in the blended model can reduce virus transmission since smaller groups means more space to spread out.

It also means less people would likely be identified as close contacts and told to quarantine if someone in the same class tests positive for COVID-19.

Kelley added that beginning the school year with students in class two days a week means the county health department can learn watch how the situation unfolds. If case numbers remain low and outbreaks are avoided, the likelihood of students returning five days per week increases.

That, however, requires everyone inside and outside schools to follow health guidelines, he said.

“One thing I want everyone to really understand is school boards are making really tough decisions but this is not a final decision,” Kelley said. “How we start the year may not be how we end the year.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.