Kids Getting Out of School

Kids climb onto their buses after school on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, at Bozeman High.

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After nearly 11 months, Bozeman and Gallatin High Schools will be filled with the hustle of a full school on Thursday as they move to four days of in-person instruction.

Over 1,100 students at Bozeman High and about 800 in Gallatin High will return to in-person school on Thursday. Although the semester started on Wednesday, it is a remote learning day for the students.

“We certainty have concerned parents and staff members,” said Casey Bertram, interim co-superintendent. “It’s doubling the number of students in the school during a pandemic.”

He said the district is doing everything it can to manage and mitigate those concerns while being compassionate toward people who might have worries.

The internal district metrics for all three grade bands over the last 10 weeks have remained stable, putting schools in a solid place to expand in-person learning, district administrators said earlier this week.

Dan Mills, principal of Bozeman High School, said he was looking forward to seeing all the students in the building on Thursday. He said it’s been challenging for students to not be in schools and at the games and events. While they can’t “wave a magic wand” to make all of that happen, he said it will be good to have students in the classrooms.

“It feels like it’s the first day of school even in the middle of the year,” Mills said.

During lunch, students will be allowed to eat off campus to allow for greater social distancing and students will be encouraged to “eat where you feel comfortable,” he said.

Managing social distancing in the hallways is something the schools will continue to revisit. Mills said they don’t want students to gather together in groups during the class transitions.

“We’re ready to remind students to keep safe and stay in the classroom,” he said.

The schools will also continue to reemphasize their cleaning procedures with additional students in the buildings each day. Mills said all student surfaces are cleaned each day and Wednesday is a day for deeper disinfecting. Throughout the day, teachers also often wipe down surfaces during down time in the classrooms.

Bertram said at the start of the school year the district had 11 custodial positions to fill and they have filed eight, with ‘roving’ custodians providing additional support where needed.

“Any given day, I feel like we’re well staffed on the custodial staff,” he said.

The high schools are in a 4-plus-1 model or four days of in person and one day of remote learning. 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.

Mills said there are about 287 students who enrolled in Track C, or the remote-only option, which is about 19% of the student population. He said it was only slightly higher than what was enrolled at the end of semester.

“A few more students elected for remote learning but it hasn’t been a significant shift,” he said.

Gallatin High has 107 students enrolled in Track C out of its total student body of 903 students.

Bertram said the change of the semester created a natural time for families who felt uncomfortable with the in-person option to move to the Track C.

“The semester format is a great time to do that,” he said. “The rosters are clean and we’re not moving a bunch of kids in the middle of the semester.”

The Bozeman School Board confirmed its earlier decision to boost in-person learning days for the middle and high schools during the virtual board meeting on Monday night. The middle schools will join the elementary schools with five days of in-person learning on Feb.1

The district’s move to welcoming more students into the high schools came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in the Journal of American Medical Association saying children should return to classrooms.

The researchers said they found “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission” when safety precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing were maintained. With those precautions in place, the researchers said the evidence showed in-person instruction could be done safely.

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

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