St. Regis School plans to resume in-class training

by AMY QUINLIVAN
Mineral Independent | July 30, 2020 5:52 PM

On June 21, the St. Regis School Board voted to bring children back to in-classroom instruction at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Following an online survey and an open forum meeting for parents and community members to voice comments and address concerns, the committee made their recommendation to reopen.

Superintendent Joe Steele expressed, “We were all in agreement that students need to be in school, but need to find the safest way to do that.”

With safety at the forefront, a detailed strategy was thoughtfully crafted.

Steele said, “The plan outlines the procedures that will be put in place. Letters will be going out to parents about expectations for keeping their children home if they have temperatures or are sick, and an agreement about what students and parents will do if they are electing to keep their students’ home. We are working on how to accommodate the remote learning with the in-person learning.”

Like the end of last school year, the district is anticipating school to look vastly different than it has in the past. The academic calendar begins on Aug. 24, and if the state reopening guidelines are still in Phase 2 at that time St. Regis School has various protocols that must be followed.

In this stage all students return to school under the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control, Governor Bullock’s office, and Office of Public Instruction. Social distancing will be practiced as much as possible. Masks and shields will be worn in common areas (hallways, restrooms, etc.). At the teacher’s discretion masks can be removed in class as long as they remain in their group. Safety guidelines will be enforced and students can be disciplined for not following protocols.

To comply with group sizes of less than 50, meals will be grab-n-go with students eating in their classrooms.

Transportation to and from school will require many adaptations. Another bus route will need to be run to ensure appropriate spacing. Steele noted, “Finding drivers may be difficult, another option is to offer individual contracts and have parents drive kids to school daily.”

Bus driver and mother of six school children, Amy Lowry, is currently trying to create dividers that can go into the buses. She said, I’m trying to design shields to put between the seats.”

She knows that her routes will take longer and look different this year. “I will have to have someone riding with me to take temps before entering the bus.” But even with the extra steps in place Lowry stated, I’m glad to be going back, with some reservations as to how and what that will look like. But I think with the low rate of infection with younger kids we are safe.”

Students with temperatures of 100 or above will not be allowed on the bus. Therefore, a parent will need to be at the bus stop in case the child has to return home. A seating assignment will made which to correlate with first on, last off. Filling the seats from back to front. If a child is dropped off or walks to school their temperature will be taken at the front door of the elementary entrance.

To cut down on points of contact and student mingling, hallways will be one-way traffic. Throughout the school day 7-12 grade classes will rotate to new classrooms as normal with added sanitization practices in place. Another option is for students’ groups to remain in one classroom and the teachers would rotate. For pre-K through sixth grade they would remain in their classroom cohorts.

Extracurricular activities may continue with social distancing observed and no more than 50 individuals participating at a time. These are largely dictated by the organization. Sports will be determined by the Montana High School Sports Association which will be providing guidelines next week.

In the instance that Mineral County develops widespread cases, or the state changes to a new phase before Aug. 24, plans are in place for these situations. Phase 1 guidelines would revert to distance learning which was observed through the springtime. Phase 3 however would see very limited restrictions with all students back on campus, but the school as a whole would continue to instill safe health practices and monitoring.

Steele shared, “The hardest part is the uncertainty of what two days from now looks like. We can put all these plans together, but it may all go out the window if we get a spread in the community. I do believe that this is something we will have to learn to live with, just like the flu, but for now we have to follow the guidance and take precautions regardless of how we feel about it.”

He also acknowledged, “We will provide a safe learning environment, but when the bell rings and the students go home, I don’t know what they will bring with them in the morning, which then makes me worry about my staff’s health.”

There are a number of students, staff, and parents with health concerns that put them at a higher risk. This is why ultimately families have the option of keeping their students home, and entering into a Remote Learning Agreement. The district will continue to provider curriculum materials and also construct an access schedule for internet usage at the school’s library for students in need.

Like many of the educators at St. Regis School, music teacher Derek Larson is willing to make some adjustments to have students back in his room playing their instruments this fall. This includes creating barriers between band members in his music room, made out of PVC pipe frames and shower curtains.

“I’ll be in my room this weekend working on the design and getting measurements for how much material we need,” said Larson.

The school administration did request feedback from the teachers and found the majority were in favor of reopening and willing to adapt to new health practices.

Steele expressed, “They have stated they will do whatever it takes to get students back in school. St Regis is fortunate because we have a staff that is very caring and supportive of our students. I have never worked with a staff, from custodians to paraprofessionals and teachers, to office staff and administrators, who put so much into the students they serve. We really have a family atmosphere here, which is why our students want to be back in school and we want them here.”

With less than a month to go until the start of the school year, students will begin registering for classes by scheduling with the guidance counselor. The academic calendar has not been changed.

Lastly, Steele recapped, “We can provide a very safe learning environment, but we can’t protect them after they leave our building. Parents and the community have to do their part in taking precautions as well.”