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Bozeman School Board votes to extend middle school return to in-person classes

Posted at 7:09 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 11:39:06-05

BOZEMAN — Bozeman School Board Trustees voted unanimously Monday night to delay the transition to in-person learning for middle school from the original date of Nov. 23rd. Trustees will discuss the transition again in January 2021.

You may remember back in early October the Bozeman School Board voted in favor of transitioning from the blended model to full-time, in-person learning for all grade bands.

Those transition dates differed depending on grade level.

In a notice released by the Bozeman School District Administration, the Deputy Superintendents recommended (see below) the School Board postpone the transition date for middle school students. They will reconsider a new transition date in January 2021.

One of the main reasons is a trend the Gallatin City-County Health Department noted and schools across the county have been experiencing: a shortage of staff and substitute teachers.

"We’ve had a number of schools that have made decisions to go to remote learning," said Matt Kelley, Gallatin City-County Health Department Health Officer. "And that is happening primarily because they don’t have the staffing to keeps things going the way that they want to and because they have cases in the school."

Pre-K through 5th-grade students transitioned on November 2nd, but the Deputy Superintendents say in the notice that childcare needs at the middle level aren’t as high.

The report also acknowledges the COVID positivity rate in the community is currently at an all-time high - something that teachers have voiced some concern about in School Board and Board of Health meetings.

"I can tell you, teachers, much like nurses and doctors and techs in the hospital are putting everything they can into this," said Kelley. "But they’re tired, they’re stressed, and some of them are scared."

Finally, initial district data shows the blended model contributes to lower student and staff COVID quarantine rates than full-time, in-person learning.

On Monday evening, the School Board will also discuss Superintendent Bob Connor’s performance evaluation.

Connor has been on administrative leave since November 2nd.

Deputy Superintendents' recommendations to the school board

The reasons for the recommended postponement are:
● Current staffing challenges PK-12 are significant and moving the middle school to five days of in-person instruction will likely intensify those challenges, particularly in our special education programs.
● Initial District data indicates the blended model contributes to lower student and staff COVID quarantine rates than the cohort model Double click to Return to Agenda Meeting Date: November 16, 2020 Category: Action Item - Singular - Elementary Agenda Item #: 3 Originated By: Deputy Superintendents Others Involved: Middle School Principals MOTION SECOND AYES NAYS ABSTAIN
● The infection rate impacts of moving to 5-day/week in-person instruction at the K-5 level are not yet known. Administration contends more time should be taken to understand the impacts of the five day model on staffing and COVID transmission before moving forward with another grade band.
● Community child care needs at the middle school level are not as significant as the K-5 levels.
● It is anticipated that the District will continue to mirror the COVID positivity rate of the community, which is currently at an all time high.
● The size of the Middle Schools and the number of students served (CJMS - 742, SMS - 832).
● The high number of students that each Middle School teacher serves each day (up to 150).
● The difficulty in maintaining cohorts when we transition back to the normal middle school schedule (seven period day) - blended model provides for social distancing and minimizes student inner mixing.
● The Middle School blended model helps us to concentrate the District’s limited sub-pool at PK-5 where the current need is the greatest.
● The quality of instruction provided to students in quarantine is diminished given adult capacity during full in-person instruction. Staying in the blended model provides teacher planning time to maintain online instruction. We will continue to monitor the COVID data in the community and recruit for subs and volunteers

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.