Many parents throughout Shelby will be happy to hear that their kindergarten through 12th grade students will be returning to school this upcoming fall. The Shelby School Board met for a special meeting on Tuesday, July 28, in the Shelby High School auditorium to discuss how they would go forth with students attending school on campus this fall. Many staff members and interested parents attended the meeting, most not wearing masks, but social distancing was in effect.
Before discussing the guidelines that would be in place for each step or phase of school being open Superintendent Crump recommended the Board adopt their own declaration of an unforeseen local emergency as provided in 20-9-806, MCA. By adopting this declaration the schools will still receive funding even if they are forced to shut down.
After the Board unanimously adopted the declaration Superintendent Crump explained the he had broke down the governor’s, the Office of Public Instruction’s, the Academy of Pediatrician’s and the CDC’s recommendations to implement them on the local situation.
“This is just a draft copy of steps, listed zero through four, looking at different items and how to address them,” said Crump. “Step zero is school closure, step four is pretty much back to normal. Step three is what I am going to talk about as that is what we are closest to now with being in Phase 2 and no cases here in Toole County at this time.”
Currently the steps, and what each entails, are still in the draft phase and changes can and will be made as more information is available and the start of school gets closer. The draft documented will not become official and be put into action until voted on and approved by the Board. A full copy of the draft can be found on the school’s website, shelbypublicschools.org.
During step three of the plan kindergarten through sixth grade students would remain in their classrooms, with the library, gym and cafeteria not being utilized as normal. Crump shared that the library and cafeteria would and could still be used by students, but it would be by class and has yet to be decided how that would work.
“The library may just have a cart that is brought around to each class by the librarian,” said Crump. “Kindergarten and first grade will eat in the cafeteria regardless, we can sanitize and maintain social distancing.”
During step three all students would be required to wear a mask upon entering the building for the day and leaving at the end of the day. Masks would also be required for any student riding the bus. When in class, at recess or participating in PE masks would not be required.
“All the recommendations hammer away at masks,” said Crump. “We know that with the younger students this is not feasible. We will only require masks at certain times, as minimal as possible.”
Containing students in their classrooms not only cuts down on the amount of contact between students, it also enables the school to continue operating if a case of COVID-19 appears.
“If we have a student get COVID-19 and we are operating this way we would only have to have that class quarantine for 10 days instead of having to shut down everything,” said Crump. “We don’t want to have to shut down the entire school if a case pops up. We’d rather isolate one class of 15 to 20 students with distance learning for two weeks and let the others continue to come.”
High school and junior high students would have a block schedule during step three, attending four classes a day instead of eight in an effort to reduce movement.
“If we have COVID cases, the teachers would then move class to class instead of the kids,” said Crump. “Students would be required to wear masks between passing times in the hallways, but we can look into not having to by having staggered movement. This would be easier to manage than masks, but we will do either.”
Students will spend less time in the hallways as lockers will not be assigned this year. With only having four classes a day, the amount of materials needed will be significantly less and students can just bring from home what they will need and carry it with them throughout the day. During step three Shelby High School and Junior High would also be a closed campus with students not being allowed to leave during lunch.
“We will be doing a block schedule and allowing more time between classes for students,” explained Crump. “Due to this, the amount of time for lunch has decreased and we don’t want our students driving fast to get out of here and back in the short amount of time given.”
If and when step four is implemented high school and junior high students would return to having eight classes a day and open campus for high school students.
When it comes to the issue of health screening Crump advised that students would be screened daily, but not upon arrival at the school to avoid bottlenecking at the entrances.
“Most recommendations have changed and now say not at arrival but instead to get them into their classrooms and then check temperatures,” said Crump. “That is what is recommended by the CDC. We will also have a quarantine room if a student shows symptoms.”
“So now we are requiring teachers to be doctors, educators and janitors,” questioned Board member Jay Hould.
“No, if they are showing symptoms of not feeling well they will be sent to the office and it will be taken care of from there,” said Crump. “The common idea is, if your kid is sick, keep them home.”
Hould pushed the issue a bit more, sharing his concern that there are a lot of parents that don’t seem to care, that are not involved with their kids and those parents would allow their students to go to school and then would not come and pick them up. Superintendent Crump assured him that the school would and could take action if that were to happen and that students could only return to school upon being symptom free or with a negative COVID test.
“The CDC guidelines do not recommend general screening,” reiterated Crump. “They instead encourage parents to monitor their children. I am trying to follow their recommendations.”
Comments from those in attendance of the meeting supported students returning to school with many voicing that distance learning and home schooling was not something they wanted to have to continue.
“There is a reason I went into the medical field,” said parent, Britt Gardiner. “I am not a teacher, I cannot do this. My son needs to go back to school.”
For those parents not wanting to send their students back to school the option of distance learning from home will still be available. The guidelines for that service are still being ironed out as well.
“For parents who want to continue distance learning from home, that will be an option,” said Crump. “But there will be guidelines in place as students will not be allowed to jump back and forth between doing school at home and attending school.”
The Shelby School Board will meet again in a couple of weeks to start the process of changing and accepting the plan of action. Updates will be provided on the school’s webpage and the final, approved copy of the terms will be available once complete.