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Madison County schools make fall plans

Madison County Sanitarian Van Puckett spoke with each Madison County school superintendent about plans for the upcoming school year.

“They’re all doing a great job working toward the same common goal,” Puckett said. “Each one is looking at the health and wellbeing of the students and staff.”

All schools are required to submit plans to the Madison County Sanitarian Office. The Madison County Board of Health will review those plans during its meeting July 30, according to the MCSO.

The Madisonian had not received details of Sheridan Schools plans by press time. The Sheridan School Board did not meet for their usual July meeting, but will meet tomorrow to discuss the draft plan and meet regularly in August. A survey went out to parents, but results are not yet in. A draft plan is included on the school district's website. 

Alder School

Before the Thursday July 16 board meeting, another meeting took place for Alder teachers and County Superintendent Pam Birkeland to draft a reopening plan. They are hoping to have the plan ready by August’s meeting.

Birkeland emphasized the plan is just a draft but said the District plans to reopen for in-person instruction on Aug. 26, barring no shutdown or increase of cases in the Alder area. They additionally agreed that remote options would be provided to families that prefer to continue in that manner.

The plan has not been published and currently serves as a method to construct scenarios that may occur—formal hand washing procedures, outdoor lunches—and plan ahead for said scenarios. Birkeland expects the board will meet several more times before the next meeting to parse out different possibilities.

“Even draft plans, you have to consider your uniqueness and it can’t be the same for everyone,” Birkeland said.

With part of the CARES act money, Alder School is installing no-touch sinks and toilets. The goal is to complete this project before the school year is set to begin in August.

At the onset of the coronavirus school closures in March, Alder declared a state of emergency through June 2021, expecting the crisis to not be resolved through the next school year. This allows the District to continue to receive funding.

Additionally, the plans each District in the state submitted to the state showed that students were still receiving education, even if not in the classroom, and helped continue funding. This time, Districts are not required to submit a hard copy plan, but are expected to follow guidelines from the state, Office of Public Instruction (OPI) and other educational entities.

Alder School District has not conducted a formal survey for parents yet, but Birkeland expected phone calls and emails to begin asking parents if they plan on sending their children back to school for the fall.

Ennis School

Ennis Schools intends for most students to return to in-person instruction on August.

The school is planning for the with strict safety procedures, as long as Montana does not revert to the first phase of reopening due COVID-19. The Ennis School Board is preparing to accommodate for all its students, including students who may not return to the facility because they or a household member have a high risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s easy to say that,” Ennis Superintendent Casey Klasna said. “But it’s going to be hard to implement everything and make everybody comfortable.”

Plans for the upcoming schoolyear’s were not approved at the school board meeting July 15. But the Ennis School Board discussed some options and concerns they are dealing with. Ennis Schools has seen a spike in enrollment, according to Klasna. The school’s approximately 90,000 square feet facility is at capacity with almost 400 students enrolled.

“There is no way that we’re going to be able to keep everybody 6 feet apart, which is the recommendation,” Klasna said. “We have to just do our best with that to keep kids separated as much as possible and as safe as possible.”

A parent survey about preferences on conducting school during the COVID-19 pandemic received 195 responses. Nearly 90% of responders were in favor of their children returning to school, and 60.5% said that they were comfortable with conducting school as usual as long as the Centers for Disease and Control guidelines were followed. Nearly 30% preferred a blended model, which could mean portions of students would attend school on different days. But a third of the parents who responded said that they would not have childcare to accommodate a blended schedule.

“We’re taking that into consideration heavily because we want it to work for all families,” Klasna said.

Ennis Schools is also considering transportation arrangements, social and emotional tools of the changes, sanitation protocols and curricular actives. The Ennis School board will meet next week to make decisions on the upcoming schoolyear’s plans.

“The best way to go forward with this is to work together, not against each other,” Klasna said. “I’m very proud of the parents’ efforts in adapting to the changes.”

Harrison School

Harrison Schools have implemented a safer environment for its students and staff to return to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers and most parents in the Harrison School District want students to return to the classroom in August, according to Superintendent Fred Hofman. Hofman has spent the summer focusing on how the upcoming school year can safely and reasonably resume inside the two-story building. Harrison’s small student population of about 80 students K-12 is an advantage in these COVID-times.

“We have every intention of returning to school,” Hofman said. “We think it’s going to look a little different.”

Harrison Schools focused on high touch surfaces and social distancing measures for students and staff. Automated soap, towel and hand sanitizer dispensers, and automated toilets were installed. Water fountains were turned off. Temperatures will be checked before entering the building. Seating will be spaced out where it can be, like in classrooms and on the big bus.

“We can take reasonable measures to reduce the spread,” Hofman said. “Simple things we aren’t used to doing.”

Harrison’s school attendance policy will be altered to encourage students to stay home if they are sick. Students will have to be fever-free for 24 hours without medication to return.

“Parents, do the right thing,” Hoftman said. “If your kid is sick, keep them at home. We need you to protect everybody else.”

More details for the Harrison Schools’ operations are in the works. The board and teachers will meet Aug. 6 to discuss the upcoming school year. Hofman said the community and board will have their final discussion and a vote Aug. 10.

Plans for the new school year were submitted to the Madison County Sanitarian Office, as is required for all schools in the county. The Madison County Board of Health will review those plans during its meeting July 30, according to the MCSO.

“We need to be smart,” Hofman said. “Lots of people have family at risk. It’s a serious issue.”

Twin Bridges School

The Twin Bridges School Board met Tuesday, July 14 to discuss a DEQ requirement, the sidewalk construction project and fall COVID-19 policies. Another meeting is scheduled for tomorrow in continuation of that discussion.

In terms of coronavirus preparations for the fall, the board did not take any action. Polices adopted at the onset of COVID-19 were reevaluated and the board discussed if any changes to the polices needed to be made. Last month, Superintendent Thad Kaiser was asked to propose a ‘50% plan’ to the Board which he has called his Reentry Plan.

Superintendent Kaiser created the Reentry Plan in consultation with plans provided by the Governor and the Office of Public Instruction (OPI), and through conversation with the Madison County Public Health Board (MCPHD).

Another meeting is set for tomorrow which may be a discussion of suggestions made at this meeting, or action may be taken on different items. The board would like to have a plan by Aug. 1, “so that the school community has plenty of time to be aware of what that plan looks like,” Board Chair Steve Janzen said. Tomorrow, more policies developed during the coronavirus crisis and thoughts from Board members and the public will be discussed.

“We’ll just keep going till we get it right,” Janzen said.

The building engineer is working with the District’s distributor to ensure proper sanitation and disinfectant will be available in the fall.

“We definitely have different perspectives, but our conversations are very constructive,” Janzen said, and all board members have the same objective, he pointed out—the students’ well-being.

A new Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requirement related to schools involves lead and copper testing. Initial sampling is to be collected by Dec. 2021, but schools are encouraged to start early. The District is working with Scott Payne with Northern Rockies Engineering in Sheridan to form a plan and ensure it meets DEQ requirements.

The sidewalk project is underway. Curbs and gutters are completed, and streets are torn up in the construction area. Sidewalks will run from Main Street down to the school, in front of the school and gym and loop around the school. They will provide a safe way for students to get lunch on Main Street during the day and also provide safe walking areas before and after school hours.

Coaches for high school boys’ and girls’ basketball, middle school girls’ basketball and track and field were rehired for the next seasons. An individual custodian was hired, and the plan to look for contract custodians was abandoned. Both Superintendent Kaiser and elementary principal Cindy Brown’s contracts were renewed. School buses and boilers were inspected and formatting changes to the handbook were approved.

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65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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