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Sophomores Shelby Correa, left, Berlin Larson and Sienna Mellinger were in attendance at Coyote Days last week and in compliance with the mask requirements. Social distancing was a bit tougher while trying to compare their schedule for the school year that kicks off on Aug. 26.

With the number of COVID-19 cases going from zero to 14 since the special Shelby Schools board meeting on July 28, many parents wondered if the district would still be starting the year in Step 3 of the reopening plan. After meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, the Shelby School Board decided to go forward with that plan. Board member Jay Hould cast the lone dissenting vote.

“The goal is to open on Step 3 with the option to change to Step 2 or 1 or 4 at any given time given the situation,” said Superintendent Elliott Crump. “If we have no cases here and none in the surrounding counties we would go to Step 4. If there is a surge we would be able to go to Step 2.”

Things may be changing sooner than anyone expected though, as on the day after the Board meeting Governor Bullock amended his earlier face mask directive.

“The July 15 directive providing for the mandatory use of face coverings in certain settings is hereby amended to require the use of face coverings, as detailed in that directive, in all public and private K-12 schools in counties with four or more active cases. All provisions set forth in the directive apply to public and private K-12 schools; indoor school spaces are considered indoor spaces open to the public; school-related outdoor activities are considered organized outdoor activities.”

In light of this recent development a special meeting of the board may be called and the school website would advise of the information. 

During last week’s meeting many concerns were raised and discussed by the Board. Crump said he had spent a considerable amount of time talking to the Montana Academy of Pediatricians and included a number of informational items in the board packets.

“There are four main things they stressed,” said Crump. “Hand hygiene is the most important, physical distancing was second and anything less than three feet, a mask is required.”

Crump continued, face masks are the most effective with this virus. They are recommended for junior high and high school students and “in training” for elementary. The fourth thing was “getting the flu vaccine so we are not mistaking people with the flu for COVID.”

Masks will be required for entering and exiting the schools at the start and end of the day, as well as in the hallways and anytime social distancing of three feet or more cannot be maintained.

They will also be required by all spectators at sporting events and the athletes currently on the sidelines. 

When asked about music classes, band and choir, it was noted the “music programs are the highest risk activity.”

“I struggle to understand how choir is a higher risk than football,” said School Board member Chad Scarborough. “I was a lineman and you are right there, face-to-face with someone. How is that less risk than choir?”

Crump admitted he was not sure; he had not asked that specific question. Physical Education classes also did not come up in the discussion with the Montana Academy of Pediatricians.

Distance learning was also discussed and the requirements that would come with it. It was agreed that a letter needed to be sent out to parents on how to sign up for distance learning. The letter needs to also explain anyone wanting to change from distance learning to attending school, or vice versa, would be able to at the end of the trimester for elementary students and at the end of the quarter for junior high/high school students. If a student or class is in quarantine is the exception.

“Shouldn’t we allow maybe one chance to move to online during that time? I know we don’t want a lot of back of forth,” said board member Jay Hould.

“Can we take into consideration the teachers in this,” asked Shelby Elementary teacher Kim Hayes. “It’s a lot of work. it involves a lot of anxiety.”

“My concern is for the teachers and what we are expecting of them,” said Scarborough. “The extra load–when will they have time to actually teach with all of this?”

Crump agreed that going back and forth would not be an option for students and that in-class learning will be at a much higher level, no matter what efforts are made for distance learning.

“Teachers can do their class live stream and put resources on Google Docs or Google Classroom,” explained Crump. “The students will already have the books at home. Teachers can also record the lesson and post it later. Really, it depends on how many students opt for distance learning. Regardless, in-class learning will be at a higher level, no matter what we do.”

The four-step plan put together by Crump is mindful of guidelines and mapped out to offer the best possible ways to offer in-class learning, with the option of distance learning, for all students. 

 “I can see it in policy, but struggle to see it in practice,” said Scarborough. “Especially with the elementary teachers, asking them to go above and beyond and things won’t be able to be maintained. You did a tremendous job putting the plan together. But it comes back to choir versus football. Some things are okay, others are not. It should go all or none.”

Board member Brian Aklestad also shared his thoughts. “Success in this will depend on parents and the community to participate. Either people will make it a success or it will go to distance learning. We won’t know what works or don’t until we get things underway. I see us re-visiting this regularly and tweaking it.”

The Board agreed, with the exception of Hould, to move forward with Step 3 of Crump’s returning to school plan. 

For more information, to view the four step plan or any other updates in regards to school please visit the school website at www.shelbypublicschools.org or contact the administration office at (406) 424-8910.

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