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Havre schools staying open this week

New cases reported in the district

Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees Friday during an emergency meeting voted to keep the schools running as is for this week.

The decision will be revisited at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Havre Middle School gymnasium.

After the meeting ended, new cases were confirmed of people associated with the district, one Friday afternoon and nine more Sunday, bringing the total confirmed in the district since Sept. 20 to 20 cases.

Interim Superintendent Craig Mueller posted an update on the district website at this morning under “Message from the Superintendent 10.12.2020

See related stories on new cases in the region on this page.

This week’s schedule was adjusted for reasons outside of the pandemic. The students are divided into two groups to reduce numbers in the buildings on a give day, and, normally, students in Group A meet Monday and Wednesday and students in Group B meet Tuesday and Thursday with Friday a distanced learning day.

Today will serve as an “A” day, Tuesday will be a “B” day and Wednesday will be used as a virtual day as Thursday and Friday are professional development days.

Events and activities also continued last weekend and that schedule will be revisited at the school board meeting Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m.

The motion to switch to remote learning only was defeated Friday on a split vote, with five no’s to three yes’s.

Board Chair Aileen Couch voted no as did board members Harvey Capellen, Cindy Erickson, Ed Hill, Theresa Miller with Tim Scheele, Brian Williams and Curtis Smeby voting yes.

Athletic activities to continue throughout last weekend passed 5-3.

Couch voted yes as did as Capellen, Erickson, Hill, Miller with Scheele, Williams and Smeby voted no.

Many members of the audience attended through Zoom and were in favor of returning back to school and to continue with the scheduled events.

Scheele asked if the district is going to stay the same, with about 500 attendees at athletic events where the student section was shoulder to shoulder during the entire game.

“Are we going to have them socially distanced, because if they are not going to be socially distanced, why are we making adults socially distance,” he asked. “It doesn’t seem like that’s really what we should do if we are going to make one social distance, we should have them all do it. We probably shouldn’t have any of them even at the game at this point if we want the kids to play at the end of (this week).

“I have a really hard time with the student section,” he added. “... It looks really bad to the public when we’ve got pictures all over the internet of 50 kids packed shoulder to shoulder, but adults can’t even go to the game.”

Havre High School Assistant Principal and Activities Director Brian Kessler said the student section is hard to make social distance happen, so they require masks to be worn at all times in that section.

“Just as we would request of fans if they are not able to social distance that they have their masks on in the stands while they are watching the game or moving around, going to concessions, any of that kind of thing,” he said.

He said the situation can definitely be re-looked at to make sure social distance can occur.

Williams said the likelihood of students acquiring the virus while in school increases much more dramatically than playing football.

Mueller said he thinks it also has to do with the team the students are going against in the activity or athletic event.

“If it’s bad enough that we got to go to remote learning and so forth, then how do we justify the extracurricular activities?”Williams asked. “Here’s my issue, I drive by the high school or the middle school, and as soon as they are out kids are throwing their masks off, they’re hugging, they are hanging out.”

Smeby said he agrees.

Williams said his questions is, long-term, “How do you shut down the schools and say, ‘Hey, you can’t go to school, it’s too dangerous, but go ahead and travel all over the state and play football or have them come in.’”

He said he doesn’t know how that can be balanced. 

“I’m not opposed to finishing out (the weekend) because I think the ball is in motion and that would be too difficult,” Williams said.

Scheele said the board would have look at this issue of what to do with events and school continuing in person pretty hard Tuesday at the school board meeting.

Where cases detected

Mueller provided a chart that displayed a total of 50 quarantines and positive cases have come out of the district — Highland Park Early Primary School, 13 at Lincoln-McKinley Primary School, 33 at Sunnyside Intermediate School, eight at Havre Middle School, 33 at Havre High School and seven that are considered districtwide.

“As a district, our attendance rate is 83.86, our absentee rate then being 16.14 percent,” he said. “A year ago at this time, our attendance rate was 93.89 percent with an absence rate of only 6.11 percent.”

That was before the new cases were confirmed over the weekend.

Mueller said Friday that he spoke with Dr. Kevin Harada of Northern Montana Health Care that day, who shared the positivity rate of Hill County as of last Wednesday, which was 9.3 percent For the state of Montana it was 9.6 percent.

This past week the Havre Public School district canceled its substitute teacher training due to some unforeseen absences in the district, he said, but was able to hold coach/sponsor training with 50 attendees.

Last Thursday was the first night of virtual parent teacher conferences at Havre Middle School, he added.

Transportation and meals

Mueller also gave a transportation and food service report during the meeting,

He said 20 percent of district buses are being driven by relief drives.

“Our transportation department is spread very thin,” he said. “One individual route that was shut down (last week) was broken into three separate routes, so three other routes had to be adjusted with the closure of that single route”

This year the district has 12 routes being run as opposed to last year at this time, when the district had 16 different routes, he said.

“We already know that the number of students that we are transporting is significantly less than it has been in years past, we now run the risk if there’s an outbreak in our bus garage of not being able to extend local busing to our students and their families,” Mueller said.

The food service department in the district is holding steady, he said, adding that in the middle school lunches are being held in the classrooms and in the elementary schools they are doing a good job by being able to contact trace by providing seating charts of their lunchrooms.

  He also said the custodial staff is also stretched thin with a couple individuals in quarantine.

“In the case that we are in at Sunnyside, not only with the custodial staff, but also our paraprofessional staff, is we are taking from one building and going in and asking those employees to work across the district in several different building — potentially exposing them and our students to a combination of different individuals,” he said.

He said that he sent a letter Sept. 29 to substitute teachers and asked them who have worked previously in the district if they were interested in coming into the building to work and to get a tour so they could see what the A/B schedule looked like in an effort to encourage more substitute teachers in the district.

Since that time, he said, the district has removed six more teachers from the substitute teacher pool who are not interested in substitute teaching at this time.

“The board graciously agreed to increase the pay for substitute teachers and substitute paraprofessionals, and our substitutes across our district, but that hasn’t been enough to draw the number that we need to continue in operations the way that we are,” Mueller said. “ ... The ability to not only recruit, but retain substitutes continues to be a problem.

“Without the dedication of our teaching staff it would really put us in a dilemma where we may have to go to combining those smaller groups, maybe relocating those groups into cafeteria spaces or gymnasium spaces and utilizing our administrative staff to fill in as teachers,” he added. “... We’ve been able to use, like I said, paraprofessionals from other buildings to assist at Sunnyside and in the case of the number of students that have been quarantined when they move into that quarantine status they are oftentimes moved into a virtual or remote learning environment.”

A moving target

He said going into this week it’s hard for him to say what could happen for the district that will be determined by what happened over the weekend and this week.

“Many students are going to be coming off quarantine and I say many very loosely, coming on (Tuesday and Wednesday) and I know some teachers are as well, but we only know what we have in front of us because we could be moving into an area where more teachers could be quarantined and maybe testing positive,” Mueller said.

In the event a staff or student outbreak causes the closure of one or more buildings within the district, he said, the following procedures will be followed: A transition to full remote learning will occur during the date immediately following the announcement of a school or schools closure, teachers should communicate with students and families where lesson plans will be available for remote learning.

He said the district will have to coordinate with parents if physical packets for remote learning purposes are distributed.


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