2020-2021 Planning Update: 7.13.2020

20-2021 Planning update(Note: Please note the important parent/family survey information below in paragraph two)

As of last Thursday, our Helena Public Schools have been on Summer Break for one month. In that time, our planning efforts have intensified to include nearly one-hundred volunteers, across eight teams, that are involved on a daily basis as we prepare for the forthcoming 2020/2021 school year. Over the last eleven days, we have received several additional guidance documents including the Governor’s Plan for Reopening Safe and Healthy Schools and guidance from the Office of Public Instruction. In addition, the White House and Department of Education held a half-day summit last week titled a National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools. As our planning efforts continue, we are working to incorporate and consider each piece of national, state and local guidance that we receive.

This week, please look for a parent/family survey link from Panorama Education. As a school district, we partner with Panorama to facilitate confidential, non-replicable surveys. This provides us with the information we need for planning purposes while also ensuring that responses remain confidential and informed only by parents and families that attend the Helena Public Schools. Please know that this survey will not come from an @helenaschools.org email address but rather, Panorama Education. This is a quick, two-minute (eleven question) survey pertaining to a number of back to school and support-services categories.

As our planning efforts continue, we remain focused on preparing for the entire 2020/2021 school year as well as how schools may function upon opening in the fall. Unfortunately, these past two weeks in Montana have reinforced our need to be prepared for potential surges in local COVID-19 cases. Therefore, the multifaceted nature of our plans will provide us with needed options as local health conditions continue to change across the next eleven months. At this time, we continue to prepare models in association with the four phases introduced in our June 9 update. These include the below options as outlined:

  • Phase III: (Normal) Education in this phase would most closely resemble “normal” school operations with students attending in-person. General safety and health precautions remain as part of our new norm for on-campus expectations.
  • Phase II: (Modified) While instruction will take place in-person, restrictive school operations and precautions will be needed in order to preserve a safe and healthy school/classroom environment. Modifications are expected to include revised transportation protocols, active home/school symptom screening efforts, enhanced on-campus health and safety expectations, strict cleaning and sanitization practices and adapted bell (start/end time) schedules. Gathering sizes will be significantly reduced in all school-related settings
  • Phase I: (Alternate to Closure) Should local health conditions demand more restrictive school health protocols, an alternate to closure plan is being developed for potential utilization. If needed, this plan would likely include fewer students in attendance on a given day. Students/families would likely rotate their attendance based on specifically-assigned days to ensure that necessary safety and health-related restrictions are adhered to within and beyond our school buildings. This schedule would necessitate a blended approach of our teaching/learning environment with students attending school digitally on days that they are not assigned to attend in-person.
  • Phase O: (Closure) Should a state, localized or school-specific “stay at home” or isolation situation be required for heath reasons, schools would physically close and services would immediately shift to a remote environment. Learning, technology and food services would be provided through a remote environment until it is deemed safe for students to physically return to their schools/classrooms.
  • Digital Only Option: Should any student be unable or unwilling to attend school in person during the forthcoming school year, we are working on plans to provide a remote attendance option that would allow students and families access and support via an aligned digital learning environment. Specifics related to the option remain in-development but families interested in this option should expect that their child/children will not be mandated to attend school in-person during the forthcoming 2020/2021 school year should health conditions (individual, family or otherwise) preclude the possibility their physical attendance.

While the above, outlined phases are fraught with complicated challenges and complex questions, we are planning for every known and conceivable situation that we may encounter as a community in the coming year. Our target remains aligned to in-person school attendance for any student/family able and willing to attend. However, our ability to attend and remain in-person will be actively dictated by health conditions. Therefore, our plans will be entirely dependent upon our collective efforts as a community to reduce and minimize the transmission of COVID-19.

Again, additional information including a comprehensive plan, in concert with Lewis & Clark Public Health, remain forthcoming. This update merely provides an overview of our ongoing planning efforts. While local, state and national health conditions remain dynamic and rapidly evolving, our planning efforts seek to take-into account the varied feedback that we are actively receiving from health professionals, families and employees. That noted, throughout all of our efforts, we remain absolutely committed to our priority of safety, health and wellbeing for our students, employees, families, and community. Thank you for your continued support.

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