HS refines school transportation, in-class instruction plans

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Plans to provide varying degrees of in-person instruction for students this fall continue to be developed by Beaverhead County High School officials, alongside different ways of busing students to class.

The high school’s board of trustees approved the latest versions of bus routes and transportation plans at a special July 22 meeting, which are expected to change depending on the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

The route length, how many students are bused (and whether in-town residents or outside city limits), will all depend on the severity of the coronavirus pandemic at the start of the school year, school officials say. The different options are separated into phases, with Phase 1 offering the most restricted and Phase 4 the least (or what students would expect to see with no pandemic). Even under the least restrictive phase, buses will all be regularly cleaned and disinfected, and there may still be limitations on bus capacity.

In general, plans outline students sitting alone on a seat, every other seat (unless from the same household or family). Some routes may run twice to ensure all students that are eligible to ride the bus in that phase of the plan are able to get to school and home again.

BCHS Superintendent and Principal Gary Haverfield told the board the plans still may see revisions, as consultations with local public health prompt changes. The plans must also still be approved by the county transportation committee.

Haverfield updated the board on the district’s safe school COVID-19 plan, which mapped out how to teach students with the pandemic over the next two years. The plan – also continually being revised with public health – spreads out options for fully in-person to fully online instruction, depending on the pandemic situation locally. That plan outlines levels of cleaning, disinfection and numbers of people in buildings, with Level 1 as if there were no restrictions and Level 4 being fully online.

Haverfield said staff will present plans to the full board of health at its July 31 meeting for review and approval.

Board member Koy Holland asked what phase and levels the district would expect to start school with. Haverfield said he would prefer Level 2, with all students coming in but having temperature screenings for all students and staff every day, sanitization and social distance in effect. For bus routes, that might be Phase 3 – or where the district picked up students living in town and outside, but possibly running extra routes to accommodate them all.

The actual level and phase for starting school will be determined after discussions with public health, Haverfield said.

Holland added whatever phase or level is selected, he stressed parents need to know with enough advanced notice to prepare. Haverfield said the district has begun informing parents of the different levels and possibilities, and will soon send out an “opt out” form for in-person instruction for students living in households with certain health conditions that make them vulnerable to complications from catching the virus. Haverfield said he expects roughly half of the student population to prefer schooling from home, which would make it easier to keep students physically separated that do come to campus.

Holland also suggested matching the “levels” in the plan with the “phases” to be less confusing.

Holland also wondered if students who opt out of in-class instruction could still play in organized sporting events. Haverfield said that is a question he is trying to get answered through the Montana High School Association. The MHSA previously waived its requirement that athletes needed to attend a certain number of class periods per day in school as a result of the pandemic and school closures; Haverfield said he is uncertain how or if that is still in effect for the upcoming school year.

“I can see it both ways – if someone at home is a high risk – I get that, but I also can see it the other way, that they just don’t want to do classes (in person) and then go and practice,” he said. “You can’t have it all is what I’m saying – I just don’t see it that way.”

“When you think about it though, if they are exposed (to the virus) in school or at practice, isn’t it kind of a nobrainer?” board member Patti Jo Staudenmeyer asked.

“I think that’s an interpretation they are trying to make,” Haverfield said, referring to officials at the MHSA and the Montana School Boards Association. “Of course, if the governor says no in-school instruction, we won’t be having sports anyway.”

“But what if they choose that they won’t come to school and they don’t do sports, but they want to stand in the stands and cheer with the kids? That’s not much difference either,” Holland asked.

Haverfield said there is a list of specific health considerations for opting out of classroom instruction on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, and those conditions are what the district will allow as reasoning for opting out of in-person instruction.

“It could happen with a few students, but more than likely, those aren’t the kids who are participating in activities,” he said. “We’ll see what response we get.”

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 10.