First Day of School

Parents pick up their kids on the first day back to school after six months of being at home due to COVID-19, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, at Longfellow Elementary School. 

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Bozeman School Board trustees decided to hold a vote next Monday on a possible return to five days of in-person learning after hearing from parents concerned about the blended model.

Many parents expressed frustration and concern over the blended model of learning during the school board meeting Monday as administrators presented updates after the first week of classes and the rollout of a new online learning management system.

The majority of the 15 parent comments during the meeting focused on wanting to move to full in-person learning, confusion over remote learning and a lack of electronic devices.

“Kids are excited to be back in schools,” said Heather Klein, a parent in the district. “Please find a way to open the schools to five days a week for our students.”

In the district’s blended model, half of the students have in-person classes Monday and Tuesday. The other half attends Thursday and Friday. The remaining three days out of the week are online learning.

The district launched Canvas, its new online learning management system (LMS) with the start of school last week. Many of the parents’ concerns centered on how effective online learning is for students and uncertainty on operating Canvas.

“What are the schools’ expectations for kids while at home,” said Michele Ross, a District parent. “There are kids with no Chromebooks, no way of doing the learning and worksheets are sent home.”

Casey Bertram, deputy superintendent in charge of curriculum and technology, said there were understandable growing pains with the new system, calling it “a big lift for our staff” on a short turnaround time.

The school board approved the purchase of Canvas on Aug. 6 and teachers had 12 hours of focused training on the system, Bertram said.

“Do we have 100% of teachers ready to roll? No. Do we have a large percentage ready? Yes,” he said.

He said the district was only a month into running the system and there were still bugs to be worked out and problem-solving for teachers.

“Canvas is ultimately the best thing for students and student learning,” he said. “The timing was tough.”A few parents said while they might have resources to support their kids, not every family had the same resources available to them.

“I’m someone that has resources and there are some people who don’t have money to pay someone three days out of the week to care for their child,” said Rita Bozorth, a parent.

Throughout the meeting, district administrators asked for time and patience.

“There’s a lot of nuance as to where the stress is coming from,” said Tami Phillippi, president of the Bozeman Teachers Association. “It’s a hard thing for parents, students and teachers, but I will tell you the teachers are working like crazy to make this a positive experience.”

Phillippi said she was also a parent to a high schooler who had so far had success with the blended model and operating Canvas.

Pat Strauss, director of human resources with the district, asked for concerned parents and others to understand the staff is working hard.

“If as a community, we can have a little grit and give it some time,” Strauss said. “We’re getting close, give us a little bit more time and it’s going to be way better than week one.”

Superintendent Bob Connors said the district was hoping to move to a cohort model as fast as possible. But there were also transportation, social distancing and staffing complications to be considered before moving to five days a week of in-person learning.

He estimated transitioning to the cohort model would take about two weeks after a decision was made.

“We are more of a cruise ship than a speed boat and it takes us a bit to get turned,” Connors said. “It won’t be instantaneously, after the registration, staff changes and some of those things people don’t realize need to occur.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.

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