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Havre schools going remote, activities continue

 

Last updated 10/14/2020 at 11:55am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre Public Schools District Clerk Shanna Flores records a vote during Tuesday's Havre school board meeting.

In split votes, Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees approved Havre Public Schools to go to full remote learning untill Wednesday, Oct. 28, and extracurricular activities to continue with additional precautions as the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to grow in Hill County including in the school district.

Since Sept. 20, more than 20 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in people associated with the district.

The school approved 5 to 3 with Havre Public Schools going full remote starting today till Wednesday, Oct. 28 so the district can define the full extent of involvement of COVID-19 in staff and students.

Board Chair Aileen Couch and trustees Brian Williams, Curtis Smeby, Theresa Miller, Tim Scheele voted to go into full distanced learning.

Vice Chair Harvey Capellen and trustees Cindy Erickson and Ed Hill voted against it. 

"This is not going to change any time soon, all we can do is control it," Smeby said before the vote, "... We have to rely on citizens around us to wear masks, be socially distanced, etc, and that's about it. You don't have a lot of options."

Interim Superintendent Craig Mueller said, given that the incubation period can be as long as 14 days, keeping students and staff remote for a minimum of two weeks will help find who is going to develop symptoms and who will need testing.

This can also allow for any quarantines that are going to finish, he added.

Instruction will be delivered through packets or remotely from classroom teachers, he said.

He said teacher learning plans will be posted and/or will be available for pick up at the school building each week, adding that communication with school personnel is essential.

Meals will be grab-n-go, he said, those sites of pick up will be released in the coming days.

"Students and parents will need to take virtual attendance through Infinite Campus each day of remote learning," Mueller said.

District Nurse Jeri Erickson said roughly 70 percent of students in the district are quarantined due to something school-related and roughly 30 percent are quarantined due to outside of school.

Mueller said 151 students and 28 staff members are quarantined with 28 positives among students and six among staff.

13 students are currently active cases aloing with two staff members.

The comment on the motions were split, with about half of the attendees both in person and through Zoom, said before the vote they were in favor of the full remote option.

  Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line Executive Director Tim Brurud said he supported the motion of going full remote.

"We deal with kids every day as well, same kids coming to the district and we see the same issues that are happening in the school district,"  he said. "We've had pods of kids taken down, we've staff be contact traced to - it's very difficult to do the work in those conditions and I think a two-week hiatus to let that run its course, to let the students and the staff come back and ready to come into full activity would be the wise thing to do."

He said he would urge the board to listen to the public health officials and to Mueller and his recommendation.

As for Chromebooks, Brurud said, the club has about 40 devices and about 16 laptops.

"We would be happy to make those available during this two-week period, preferably to members of the club - we have about 170 kids who are members of the club and we could easily check those devices out," he said. "We would love to help out in that way and any other way that you see fit. We would of course, close for the two weeks as well to complement the policy."

Mueller said he is still waiting on 350 Chromebooks he ordered, which were supposed to arrive mid-September but are delayed till the end of December.

Hill County Board of Health member Erica McKeon-Hanson said it's been hard and everybody is adjusting to this unprecedented time.

She said she supports the motion of going remote.

  "We need to do things a little bit differently now that we're in the category of exponential growth," she said. "We need to have this two-week reset, so give everyone, the community, time within that two weeks in order to minimize contact and minimize the spread, so that we can start to get ahead."

Zoom audience member Carrie Gillen said, as a parent and a teacher at Sunnyside, she opposed the motion.

"While this is a difficult time for students, staff and parents this will not deter kids from being together," she said. "The emotional, educational and social toll of not being in school is having a detrimental effect on students. We manage to deliver the instruction to the students at Sunnyside for the past two weeks on a skeleton crew."

She said everyone at Sunnyside stepped in to deliver instruction.

"We are punishing healthy kids who want to be in school," Gillen said. "The majority of our absences are because of quarantine, not illness. ... Please don't punish our hard-working, healthy students from a virus that isn't going any time soon."

Havre Middle School teacher Katey Barber said she was afraid two weeks would lead to a greater risk of exposure for many students during the closure and a greater number of cases when the district opens back up.

Extra-curriculars continuing

Extra-curricular activities continuing pending health and spread of the virus with additional precautions passed 7 to 1.

Couch and Capellen, Erickson, Hill, Miller, Scheele and Williams voted for them to continue, with Smeby voting no.

Some additional precautions are to reinstate the limit on tickets at events, no locker room use and limit practice times, Mueller said.

Again, about half of the attendees both in person and through Zoom said before the vote they were in favor of continuing on with athletics.

Zoom audience member Kyle Leeds said he was in favor of keeping sports.

"Allowing students to compete will be good for their mental, physical and competitive health," he said.

Zoom audience member Jamie Vines said when considering extracurricular activities, activities like band, choir and clubs need to be included, not just sports.

"The board often only focuses on sports, and that's not appropriate," she said. 

Some audience members said canceling class and continuing with activities doesn't make sense.

Bridgette Morse said sports does not educate.

"We need school face-to-face, it's always about sports," she said.

"How about we don't punish the kids that want to go to school and learn something," Miranda Hencz said. "Oh wait, too late."

Goals in slowing the spread

Mueller said he has spoken with the Hill County Health Department and Northern Montana Health Care on what the goals of re-opening are for the district, which include keeping students safe.

Havre schools has been running with splitting the students into two groups, one group attending classes Monday and Wednesday and the other group Tuesday and Thursday, with a remote-learning only day Friday.

This week, because professional development days are occurring Thursday and Friday, today is a remote learning day.

Mueller said the staggered groups has helped, but the virus has spread anyway.

"Our re-opening plan addresses the measures we've taken to slow the spread of the virus. While our current schedule does not satisfy the recommended face-to-face instruction desired by many people, it has given our teachers time to work closely in small groups and has allowed opportunities for students that large group instruction cannot match," he said. "Even with the staggered attendance in this group we've seen a drastic increase in the number of cases in our student population across the district, many of these are being identified through contact tracing and thankfully, we have not had a single student case eliminate an entire class or eliminate several teachers from the learning environment."

He said the second goal is keeping staff safe.

The district is one of the largest employers in the community, he said, adding that any outbreak will affect families and health care facilities.

The third goal is to contribute to the mitigation of the virus in the schools and the community, he said.

"We have done this through preventative measures at extracurricular events, hosting virtual open houses, going to online registration and making parent/teacher conferences virtual events, just to name a few," Mueller said.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

"... From Friday to (Tuesday) we have been able to weather the storm," he added. "Our staff has done an unbelievable job in stepping up and serving not only their students, but their community and we've had great coverage from our teachers, and again the few substitutes who are coming to work in our facility."

Enrollment update

Mueller also gave the enrollment update for the district

From the first day of school, Aug. 26, 1,714 students were in the district and as of Oct. 5, 1,704 students are in the district.

The ACT is still planned to be offered to students at the high school Tuesday, Oct. 20.

The next special board meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 12:15 p.m. at Robins School Administration Building.

The next regular school board meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Havre Middle School Gymnasium.

 
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