BCHS board to further discuss mask, hybrid learning options

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Beaverhead County High School board kept mask-optional and in-person schooling in place Monday, though they intend to discuss the issue further at a special meeting later this week.

BCHS Superintendent Gary Haverfield reviewed the district’s COVID-19 case numbers along with the results of a recent parent, staff and community survey at the meeting. The results fell in line with what Haverfield said he expected – all groups prefer in-school learning compared to remote, and mask-wearing opinions were all over the map.

“It’s kind of what I expected, to be honest with you,” Haverfield told the board Monday. “Our goal is not to go to a hybrid learning method, unless we don’t have another option.

“COVID is not going to completely go away, it’s just not going to happen. That’s why we want to stay in-person. We’ll deal with it like we deal with everything else,” he added.

Among students, 84.2% who answered the survey preferred in-class instruction, and 78.2% preferred keeping masks optional regardless of the number of active COVID-19 cases in the county. Parents had similar percentages – 86.7% were in favor of in-school instruction, and 62.5% wanted masks to remain optional. BCHS staff were more amenable to temporary mask requirements when active cases increased (62% in favor); 37.5% of staff wanted in-person instruction regardless of active cases in the community.

When students or their parents call in sick, the student needs to be symptom-free before returning to campus, Haverfield said. If they tested for COVID-19, the test must come back negative and the district needs to have that proof before the student can return to in-person instruction.

Parent Denise Hahnkamp asked the school board to consider a similar setup to what School District #10 does with its close contact cases. For students, that means having the option to come to class in person if they wear a mask for a set number of days after exposure, including masking during non-strenuous extracurricular activities. The parent could also choose to have their student quarantine at home if they did not want to mask up.

She also asked if the robocalls sent out every time someone tested positive could be scaled back, or not specify if it was a student or staff member. Haverfield said he is leaning toward transparency, which is why that information is included.

The state’s weekly COVID-19 schools report separates out cases by student and staff, though it is generally a week or two behind local data.

As of Monday, there have been 15 total students and six staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year, Haverfield said. District staff assist Beaverhead County Public Health with contact tracing, though he said he has not had any updated information from them in a couple of weeks.

“I think they are just too far behind,” he said.

If the board were to change its masking guidelines and options, it would need to do so at a separate meeting. The board intends to meet again Thursday evening to discuss those options further.