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For the last year and a half, our community has struggled through the many challenges COVID-19 presents and we are not done. Businesses continue to face a worker shortage, child care is scarce and expensive, supply chains interrupted, and families stressed. Bozeman Public Schools are no exception as we strive to provide the best education for each child in our district during unprecedented times.

BSD7 is short more than 100 employees whose duties range from paraprofessionals in classrooms to bus drivers, custodians, food service staff and substitutes. We see our business community having to adjust in how they do business, for example, a restaurant may close their patio for dinner due to a worker shortage. The school district, however, cannot close our “patio,” but must stay open all day to serve our students.

So how do we keep our “patio” open? You may find administrators doing recess duty or teachers helping with lunchroom and covering for a sick colleague. With 30% to 40% of our ingredient orders for hot lunches regularly going unfilled, we had to switch food service in our elementary schools to grab lunches. Some bus routes have run half an hour or more late, undermining parents’ and students’ faith in our system even as staff scramble to fill gaps.

That all our children are attending school five days a week while others in the county, state and nation are closing down and going remote is an achievement worth celebrating. Our teachers are burning through an inordinate amount of personal fuel to make this happen; that stack of essays in need of grading doesn’t disappear while a teacher uses her break to monitor lunch.

Taking a further — and deeper — toll on our teachers, paras and staff are the passions dividing our community regarding COVID-19 health policies and procedures. The reality is that the policy one family sees as protecting the health of their child is the same policy another family sees as harmful. This creates an impossible situation for our teachers, staff, and administrators.

As leaders of the district, your trustees set the policy for Bozeman schools. We have made decisions based on hundreds of conversations, thousands of emails, hours of public meetings. And we expect our school staff — professionals to the core — to follow those policies as they provide the best education for our children.

As the chair and vice chair of the Bozeman School Board, we invite the community to set passions aside and celebrate the Herculean efforts our teachers, support staff and administrators are undertaking to ensure every child succeeds in these uncertain times. We ask that you appreciate the excellence these professionals give every day in our schools. Please practice patience and grace with those who serve our community’s children.

Just four weeks into the school year, a distressing number of staff quietly report that they feel like the tank is on “empty.” You can help. Buy a teacher a coffee. Gift a piece of fruit or a chocolate. Pen a note. Small acts of kindness go a surprising distance today. But at a minimum, please choose to be kind.

This is a stressful time. We expect staff to do their jobs and be professional. We ask in return that you take a moment to recognize the effort that requires and to treat the educators of our children with respect and dignity. And we invite you to do this with us, the Bozeman way, as we continue to keep our patio open.

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Sandy Wilson is the chair of the Bozeman School District Board of Trustees. Greg Neil is the board’s vice chair.

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