Sacajawea Middle School PE Class

Sacajawea Middle School students return to the building after cross-country skiing during their health enhancement class on Jan. 12, 2020.

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Bozeman School District’s two middle schools have wrapped up their first full week of in-person learning since schools went remote at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

The middle schools joined the elementary and high schools in expanding in-person learning on Monday, marking the first week the district has had all of its schools in four or five days of in-person learning a week.

“We saw a lot of smiles, well, actually, the smiles were hidden by masks, but the kids’ eyes were smiling,” said Gordon Grissom, principal of Sacajawea Middle School. “A lot of enthusiasm and energy was felt in the building again.”

Sacajawea has 719 students attending in-person learning and 118 students who enrolled in the Bozeman Online School. Grissom said he had some students move to online-only learning and some move to in-person. The difference was about four students, he said.

With more students in the building, the middle schools have had to make a few adjustments, like the elementary and high schools before them. Teachers have rearranged the furniture in classrooms to accommodate the increased number of students while still trying to maintain as much distance as possible.

“We recognize that social distancing is not as possible with the larger number of kids but we continue to expect them to wear masks at all times in the building, to wash or sanitize their hands frequently through the day, and maintain social distancing when they were able,” Grissom said.

At Sacajawea, they have two blocks of time for each grade level to have lunch. Grissom said this allows the school to have half of the students outside while the other half eats lunch, and then the two groups switch.

“This reduces the number inside the cafeteria by half,” he said.

Elementary schools were the first in the district to move back to five days of in-person learning in November of last year.

The district’s two high schools transitioned to a 4-plus-1 model, or four days of in person and one day of remote learning on Jan. 27. Unlike in middle and elementary schools, high school teachers not only teach in-person students but also the high school’s online-only students. The one day of remote learning, on Wednesday, allows high school teachers to connect with the remote-only students and to plan for the week.

The district’s decision to welcome more students into the schools is in line with a recent recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC researchers found little evidence that schools contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission when safety precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing were maintained.

District administrators have previously said they would recommend future changes to the instructional models if data warrants an action or discussion with the school board.

As of Friday, there was one COVID-19 active case in Bozeman High School and one in Gallatin High School, according to the Gallatin City-County Health Department’s weekly report.

“We are hopeful that we will maintain healthy students in our school without disruption to their learning,” Grissom said. “We want to keep our kids and staff safe and believe we can do so while also providing them optimum learning opportunities.”

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

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