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Bozeman public school officials – in fact all school officials around the state and nation – have some difficult decisions ahead in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Those decisions are whether to reopen schools in the fall and, if so, how to go about it. And time is running out for making those decisions.

A nonscientific poll conducted online by the Bozeman School District finds that 85% of parents want to put their kids back into school. And getting the schools open is important for letting those parents get back to work and for providing the optimum learning experience for the students. But there are a lot of things that must factor into that.

Bozeman school administrators have developed four possible scenarios for the fall, from throwing the doors open and going back to all face-to-face instruction to turning to online learning exclusively and keeping the students in their homes. The less extreme options call for breaking the students into groups of 50 and keeping them together so an outbreak would be easier to contain, or adopting a blend of face-to-face class time and learning at home to limit contact among students and teachers while still providing the students with the socialization they need the classroom experience.

As they weigh the options, administrators and school board members are urged to adhere to a few priorities:

• Safety must be paramount. All decisions must be made with an eye toward the risks they pose to the health of students and faculty.

• Keep the process transparent and allow for parents and teachers to weigh in on these decisions in a civil manner – emphasis on the civil. The childish performance of some who showed up for a local health board meeting last week clearly demonstrated not all are capable of civil discourse.

• Establish clear thresholds of infection levels that, if reached, will trigger the complete closure of the schools. Effective education is extremely important, but not at the expense of undue exposure to a deadly virus.

• Provide those parents who do not want to send their children back to school with an online option so their children can continue to learn while the pandemic plays out.

And stay flexible. This situation is fluid, and what happens over the next few weeks will have a major bearing on what steps are possible to get students back to school.

Those saddled with making these decisions are in an unenviable position. And we all need to adopt some empathy with their plight and accept the final outcome with understanding.

Remember: We’re all in this together.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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