As our planning efforts move towards conclusion, we were able to spend time with our partners at Lewis & Clark Public Health yesterday afternoon. Their insights and feedback are an invaluable part of our process as we continue to refine options for the coming school year. As noted last week, our plan includes four phases that are meant to coordinate with local health conditions. Those conditions are actively changing on a daily basis and as a community, we are not trending the way we need to be trending as we begin to look towards August. However, our Helena community is strong, resilient, and capable of changing our current trajectory as we seek to take care of ourselves, our families and the health of fellow Helenans.
Our draft plans are nearing completion and will be ready for public review shortly. Nearly one hundred volunteers serving across eight planning teams have worked tirelessly since early June to aid our schools, families and community in preparing for all that may come our way during the 2020/2021 school year. A number of teams have completed their planning efforts but our more complicated and dynamic areas remain in progress. Please know that any plans we share in the coming days are likely to remain purposefully dynamic as we continue to respond to additional guidance and inputs. In the interim, below are answers to a number of questions that have been asked across the last week.
When will the school district announce what phase we will open in come August 26/27? An exact date for determining the precise format of our return has not yet been determined. Given changes locally across the past fourteen days, we are not comfortable making this decision with a span of five weeks between now and our scheduled start to the school year. Additionally, we have been advised by health professional that making any decision this early would be a gamble that may cause more confusion in the end. Rather, we will continue to work closely with our heath partners as we collectively seek to slow the spread in our county and state. Please note this important set of local public health indicators monitored and provided by Lewis & Clark Public Health on a weekly basis (website). As we move towards August, we will be carefully monitoring these Helena-specific indicators as well as positive cases per day/week and our overall percentage rate of active infections.
Will face masks be required for students in school? Yes, masks will be required for all students and adults on campus (in phases 1 and 2) unless a documented medical or behavioral reason restricts the use of a mask. While schools were not automatically included in Governor Bullock’s recent directive, we have made the decision to align in this state-wide effort as masks are one of several needed precautionary practices that slow the spread of COVID-19 and promote better community health. Cloth masks are preferred and should a student or adult need a mask, schools will be able to provide this protective resource. However, students and employees are welcome to bring/use their own mask. Please view the CDC guidance pertaining to face masks for more information. Please also note than bandanas and other loose-fitting facial coverings will not be accepted as sufficient protection.
Will an entirely remote (online) option be available? Yes, as noted in last week’s update, a digital only option will be available for any student and family interested in attending school via a remote learning environment (regardless of phase). We are targeting an early August sign-up date for families interested in this option. As a general overview, students and families that choose to remain involved via a digital option will retain their enrollment in their current grade and school (they will not lose their “spot” in their home school). Students will receive instruction from designated teachers including grade-level consistent content and resources. Additionally, students attending via a remote environment will have full access to our Helena Public Schools curriculum, materials and technology. Upon return from this remote option, students will retain their enrollment in their current school and will be able to rejoin their classes and grade level peers. Additional information including sign-up options are forthcoming but in the interim, please know that this option is being actively planned for the coming school year.
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