The Townsend School District board met Tuesday evening to discuss and adopt an initial plan to open schools in Townsend. Fear brought on by the Covid-19 has most all elected and appointed officials running for cover. In Broadwater county, elected officials have closed doors to distance employees from the potential threat of contact with anyone infected with covid-19.
The board members and school officials all openly acknowledged there is a high level of uncertainty regarding the health and safety in the schools. Both students and faculty, according to the draft plan, will need a substantial amount of intervention to ensure all that can be done in the name of safety.
School Superintendent Eric Wilkerson provided the school board members a summary overview of the draft plan. the draft plan has been in the works between officials in the school district. No public meetings were held on the draft plan until the meeting on August 4th in the school community room.
Internal ongoing discussions led to the initial release of the draft plan to the Broadwater Health Board from the contracted county sanitarian moments before that meeting opened last week. No copies of the draft plan were available for the public.
In the plan, a process to effect safety in the school would be accomplished through a series of adjustments providing for social distancing where feasible. The plan goes on to bring into force the use of face masks on students and staff when social distancing could not be met.
A high level of concern was brought forward by the board regarding the school lunch program. Traditional food service in the school would be abolished including a ban on students bringing their own food into the school. Service of prepackaged meals wold be handed to students by trained food servers. The higher grade students leaving the school grounds is also a concern as they will face potential contact with infected individuals.
The cost of implementing the draft plan is under a spend it or lose it. Approximately $250,000.00 was allocated to the school district to adopt and implement the plan. That funding is not part of the “Cares” grant funding that is pending from the federal government. The school district must have that funding invested in the administration of the draft covid-19 plan by December or it would have to be returned.
It was stated that even though the directive from Governor Steve Bullock and recommendations from CDC call for 6 foot spacing, the school has multiple areas that cannot accommodate the 6 foot spacing. Mr. Wilkerson advised the board that the plan would try for a minimum of 3 feet. All areas that could not comply with the distancing would then be under a mask mandate.
The district plan calls for ALL staff, pre-approved visitors, and students wear face coverings (i.e. masks, /face shields) upon entering the building. Masks will be required in any school area where a minimum of 3 feet cannot be maintained., or as directed by the classroom teacher. Face coverings must be dress code appropriate (ie. No advertisements for alcohol or tobacco products, inappropriate language, etc.). Accommodations or exceptions to this requirement will be approved on a case by case basis.
Health Monitoring may subject staff, students and visitors to temperature checks and informal questioning. Staff will be required to sign an acknowledgement at the beginning of the school year that they are personally responsible on a daily basis to monitor health threats from their own exposure and must report any contact with a covid-19 positive individual. Ongoing testing is encouraged for staff and students is by the district plan.
Rural students depending on busing are encouraged to develop alternate transportation to reduce the risks with bus contamination. The District is working on fogging equipment to treat and clean the buses on a regular basis to reduce the chances of contamination.
The plan goes further regulating traffic in hallways and the use of lockers. Playground physical distancing will be enforced and sanitation of playground equipment will be done on a regular basis. Technically the school will only be opened to students and staff. This lockdown includes family members that will need to be pre-approved to access the school.
In school instruction following the normal school day with approved district curriculum will be available to all students. The district is also offering full time remote learning to students that desire this model of instruction. It was noted at the meeting that students cannot opt in and out of the chosen method within the first 2020 semester.
Students that choose to utilize the remote learning will not be allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities. All school activities under the guidance of Montana High School Association are restricted. All sporting events will have limited viewership and may be canceled if safety guidelines cannot be met. Contact tracing will also be put in place at all events.
The county health board will be in contact with the school district to monitor and direct any adjustment needs to the County Health officer for review. The plan adopted is named the “Initial” reopening plan and may be adjusted as needed as the covid-19 management outline changes.
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