Bozeman High School lets out

Students line up outside of a bus at Bozeman High School earlier this month. 

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Educators would normally enjoy some time off during spring break week, but Bozeman School District leaders have been scrambling instead to figure out how to teach up to 7,000 students online and provide free meals for hundreds of kids.

The Bozeman School Board held a special online meeting Wednesday to hear updates on plans for online teaching and getting lunches and breakfasts to hungry kids.

The board plans to hold another special meeting Friday at noon to declare an unforeseen school emergency. That would allow Bozeman’s schools to avoid having to extend the school year in June to make up for next week’s lost school days, Superintendent Bob Connors said. It would also allow determining that students meet proficiency standards based on grades and tests instead of hours spent in the classroom, and allow canceling bus routes and bus payments for next week.

Gov. Steve Bullock on Sunday announced that all Montana public schools would be closed for two weeks to help prevent spread of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 10 people in Montana had tested positive for the virus, three of them in Gallatin County.

Marilyn King, deputy superintendent for instruction, told School Board trustees that she and principals have been working on plans to teach students remotely — either online or by providing parents with paper packets of school lessons — while school buildings remain closed.

“We want to keep things as simple and stress-free for everyone as possible,” King said.

Some teachers, parents and students are already familiar with online instruction, but for others there would be a steep learning curve, she said.

No one knows yet whether Montana will reopen its public school on March 30 or whether the statewide closure will be extended.

“We’re planning for the worst, hoping for the best,” Connors said. He noted that the state of Kansas just shut down its schools for the rest of the school year.

Each Bozeman elementary school will create a yellow button on its web page that parents and students can click on to find school lessons, contact teachers and find optional activities kids can do at home, King said. The buttons aren’t activated yet. For middle school and high school students, the district plans to have similar ways for students to find teachers’ lessons online.

The school district’s website (www.bsd7.org) will have a list of answers to frequently asked questions such as “Why are we doing this?” “How do I contact my teacher?” and “How do I connect to Wi-Fi?”

Curriculum specialists Anne Keith, Hillary Klug and Kristi Gaines will work with teachers to help put their lessons online. Teachers will take next week to get up to speed and start building online lessons plans, King said.

“We’re all going to help each other,” she said.

If school buildings are closed beyond March 30, the plan is to offer elementary kids two hours of instruction each day at first and scale up to three hours in later weeks. Middle school and high school students would be expected to spend quite a bit longer on their lessons, King said.

The majority of Bozeman families can connect digitally, King said. To find those who don’t have computers or Wi-Fi, the district has sent out a survey in English and Spanish to find out what families need. Probably by the end of next week there will be a system for lending out Chromebooks to students who need them.

Trustees Douglas Fischer and Sandy Wilson thanked all the administrators who have been working hard and “scrambling to come up with a plan” for teaching kids if schools remain closed.

To provide free sack lunches and breakfasts for roughly 400 kids while schools are closed, the Bozeman district’s food services office plans to provide “grab and go” meals starting next Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the front doors of Bozeman High School and Irving Elementary School.

Parents can drive or walk up to get meals for each child who accompanies them, from ages 1 to 18. No paperwork is required and kids don’t have to be Bozeman students or signed up for the free and reduced price school lunch program. But kids do have to be present to receive meals. Families can go to either school, depending on which location is convenient.

The meal program will operate the same as the summer lunch program operated by the Human Resource Development Council, said Brittany Selvig, the district’s food services director. For now, she said, the state Office of Public Instruction isn’t allowing meals to be delivered along school bus routes, as some parents have requested. Anna Edwards, the schools’ homeless coordinator, is working on how to get meals to about 100 homeless students.

In addition to postponing Hawks Night Live and prom, the state music festival has been canceled, Connors said.

Construction continues on new Gallatin High School, said Todd Swinehart, district facilities director, but public and student tours of the school planned for early April have been canceled.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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