November school board roundup
Ennis Schools talk about high school expansion
Ennis High School is running out of space, Ennis Schools Superintendent Casey Klasna said.
During last Wednesday’s school board meeting, the District Strategic Plan and school expansion was discussed. “We started discussions on how it could look as far as building on to our existing school,” Superintendent Klasna said regarding the high school building and the steady growth of students.
He has reached out to architects and asked about expanding the existing building. The board asked that he keep the discussion going and continue looking for other services. Superintendent Klasna explained that the largest components are community outreach, engaging the community and eventually undergoing a demographic study on growth to make sure that if expansion does occur, the space fits the district’s needs.
“We just need more space,” Superintendent Klasna said. This item will continue to be on the board agenda and is in the early stages of development and conversation. Adding more staff, elective offerings and student opportunities will also be part of the growth plan.
Superintendent Klasna also informed the board that the school reopening plan adopted in August has been working well. The major area of concern is with staffing regarding both instruction staff and substitute teachers.
Last week, the high school transitioned to remote learning at the end of the week. “That’s due to lack of staff due to quarantine and lack of subs,” Superintendent Klasna said. The other components of the reopening plan—transportation, sanitation, nutrition, business and structural and physical—have been going well, Superintendent Klasna said. As of Tuesday, the elementary transitioned to remote learning through Monday, Nov. 30.
“We’re doing pretty good, knock on wood,” he said.
Another point of discussion during the meeting concerned classified staff sick leave. Certified staff, teachers, can draw from a sick leave bank. Classified staff, non-teaching staff, currently do not have that option. The board discussed approving the donation of sick leave from certified staff members to classified staff and adopting language on a sick leave bank for classified staff.
Alder School is looking into a virtual Christmas program. Details are still being ironed out, but the goal is to send students home with a snack to share with their families while watching the show.
The school is planning on letting classes get hot lunch in the lunchroom one class at a time. The steam table will keep lunches warm in between classes, and staggering classes going into the lunchroom will allow for social distancing and time to sanitize.
“Everything’s been going well. The kids are doing really well with their masks,” Madison County Superintendent Pam Birkeland said.
Alder School District has money left over from the state Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) that needs to be used by Dec. 31. The district will use the money to hire Buffalo Restoration to complete a deep sanitation of the school.
The board talked about using some of the remaining federal CARES Act money to hire an additional aid for classes. With the current set up, teachers are in the classroom, at recess and eat lunch with their students and are not able to take a break. The district hired one aid already to help a couple days a week and the board conversed about the option of hiring another with federal funds.
The pole barn structure over the basketball court will likely not see any progress until the spring, but the board felt it was a good thing to move forward with. Superintendent Birkeland has not yet heard from other districts about the county-wide nursing assistance conversation.
“It’s one of those years we just go with the flow and try to figure it all out,” she said.
Federal changes to Title IX laws include defining sexual harassment for both students and staff. The board went through the first reading of these policies during last Thursday evening’s meeting.
The district’s student teacher will finish this week. “It was fun to bring someone in to see what rural schools are like and see how they adapted to that,” Superintendent Birkeland, who observed and worked with the student teacher from the University of Montana Western, said.
When schools went remote last spring, Harrison School District was able to provide free meals to students, siblings and other children in the community as long as they were in the district through the Summer Lunch Program. Once the school year started, districts had to be solely distance learning in order to receive the program for free.
Harrison School went back to school in-person and switched to utilizing the National School Lunch Program. After the rules for participating in the Summer Lunch Program were modified and allowed Harrison to participate in the program again, parents asked the board to reconsider lunch options to provide a free option and the board is exploring the best choice for the school and parents.
The board began the first reading of coronavirus polices set by the Montana School Board Association that were not already adopted. “They’ve recommended that schools adopt all of the policies not just one or two,” Harrison School Superintendent Fred Hofman said. He mentioned it could cost some funding down the line if not all the polices were adopted.
The board declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic at the meeting on Nov. 9 which will be ongoing through the rest of the year. Doing so allows for flexibility with some legislative requirements such as the amount of aggregate in-school hours needed per year.
Superintendent Hofman provided the board with a rundown of the ten coronavirus situations the school was involved with. He referred to them as situations instead of cases as not each resulted in a positive coronavirus case, and some resulted in several but stemmed from the same root.
A couple of the most recent situations were consistent with themes from those at the end of September—students and a staff member have tested positive but there does not appear to be inschool spread.
“We have no evidence of documented spread occurring at school. We’ve had kids positive at school, but we’ve got no verified spread from anybody at school,” Superintendent Hofman said.
One student with symptoms attended school in-person for a day and a half and ended up affecting 11 other students at the end of October. Most of the affected were quarantined as a result of being primary contacts. Three out of the 11 were impacted by in-school exposure, while the other eight were from outside school, Superintendent Hofman said. Five of the ten coronavirus situations were concentrated on Nov. 2 and affected a total of 20 more students beyond the initial 11.
“Everything that we have done did not work, that’s what our fear was on Monday (Nov. 2),” Superintendent Hofman said about the district’s Covid policies—disinfecting, students wearing masks when not at their distanced desks, seating students specifically so if an outbreak did occur the whole class would not need to quarantine.
The district closed for virtual instruction Nov. 3-6 until test results were obtained and could help verify a safe return to in-person instruction. School resumed Nov. 9.
Seventeen students were in quarantine last Monday. Students were scheduled to phase back in last week, and one group is still quarantining this week.
“It all wacked us here in the last week, week and a half,” Superintendent Hofman said. “As far as everything is considered, it could have been a lot worse,” he continued.
Additionally, an interlocal agreement with the Fromberg School District near Billings was renewed.
Twin Bridges Superintendent Thad Kaiser and board chair Steve Janzen felt the Twin Bridges community performed well regarding mask wearing and social distancing during fall sports games.
A few instances of noncompliance led to Superintendent Kaiser stepping in and the individuals reacting negatively to his requests. After this report at the meeting Janzen mentioned the district has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and hazing for students, staff and administration. The board can propose sanctions or refer to law enforcement if this type of behavior persists.
“We just want the fans to keep doing well so we can continue to have sports,” Janzen said.
The board discussed a six-man football team during last week’s meeting. No action was taken on this item.
Two teachers in the Twin Bridges Schools received a $2,100 grant for training and robotics equipment. Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry will be offered as a dual-credit class next spring. The student performance and achievement committee discussed the curriculum and testing results and will continue to review data over the next couple of months.
A substitute office worker, substitute teacher, middle school girls’ basketball assistant coach, high school speech and drama teacher and a volunteer high school assistant speech and drama teacher were hired.
The board received the final report from Northern Rockies Engineering regarding the gym. It was deemed safe and recommendations for repairs were given.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) now requires schools to conduct led and copper testing. The Twin Bridges Schools’ testing plan was submitted to DEQ.
Survey results are not yet in for the Sheridan School District’s prekindergarten program, but enough interest was expressed that the district will move forward. “We’re hoping by January we can get this rolling,” Board Chair Kendra Horn said.
Schools were closed the week of Nov. 2 as staff members were out due to contact tracing. “We felt it was a good idea to close for the week and let it settle down a bit,” Horn said. The schools are now open, but the first-grade class was meeting remotely last week as it had to quarantine due to close contact tracing. Horn expected the class should be able to meet in-person again this week.
Masks are currently required in school as Madison County has four or more active coronavirus cases. “The report is the students are pretty good about that. There’s some correcting and guiding but they’ve been pretty good about that,” Horn said. There are no plans to close unless the district does not have the staff to conduct classes or the student body drops below a reasonable level.
The district had leftover funds from the Summer Food Program. The funding was not used up as the Summer Food Program was canceled due to the coronavirus. The board discussed using the money to offer free lunch to every student and children in the public not enrolled in the school district.
The decision was to use the money in this way and lunches will be free for students from mid-November through the end of June. Prices for adult lunches will increase slightly.
“We kind of felt like the balance was more beneficial than it was hindering,” Horn said.
Correction: In last week’s November School Board Roundup, it was stated that the Sheridan School District had leftover funds from the Summer Food Program. Additionally, the story said the program was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Both of these statements were inaccurate.
Typically, the district operates the National School Lunch Program during the year. Due to COVID-19, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed schools to use the Summer Food Program through June 30, 2021.
Sheridan School District transitioned to the Summer Lunch Program when the district closed due to Governor’s orders in March and as long as students were signed up for the program, the district was able to deliver meals to students while the doors were closed. The district was able to utilize the Summer Lunch Program two weeks earlier in the summer and run it through July.
The district considered going back to the National School Lunch Program this school year. USDA extended the waiver for the Summer Lunch Program and allowed students to come to the school to pick up lunches provided by the program. The district was also able to offer the program during the school year just to enrolled students, which helped limit the number of additional people coming into the school to pick up lunch during a pandemic.
With these criteria in mind, the district decided to continue the Summer Lunch Program. Breakfasts and lunches will be free for students enrolled in the district through the end of the school year.