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Three schools slated to open this fall so far

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LAKE COUNTY – Smaller local schools are getting ready to return to in-class learning this fall if all goes as planned. 

“I am confident that we can open school and protect the safety of children, even the most vulnerable,” said Lake County Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Hall.

She said smaller schools are able to maintain safe social distancing guidelines to allow students to return, including Salmon Prairie School in Swan Lake with eight students; Valley View in Valley View with 38 students; and Dayton Elementary in Dayton with 71 students. 

Before a decision was made, Hall considered guidelines from the Montana School Board Association, the Montana Office of Public Instruction, and the Centers for Disease Control and Lake County Public Health to make a decision about reopening. She also consulted with each school’s board and all were in favor of in-person learning. Parent opinions were also consulted through Parent Teacher Organizations.

“I was hearing from all the families that they want school to open,” she said. “They asked if school could open safely. I was hearing that online learning was hard. They said that they don’t want to repeat last year.”

Opening the schools will involve several protocols, including temperature checks and hand sanitizing. An isolation center will be available if a child has a temperature. Different doors will be opened so that children won’t all go into one door in a group. 

“We do not plan for the children to wear masks at this time,” she said. The issue with masks is that young children who are learning to form sounds and words won’t be able to articulate those skills with a mask on. Teachers and staff will be wearing see-through plastic shields.

The workspace around the children will be developed with portable plastic testing-style cubicles. For the non-portable stations, dividers will be set up. The learning centers will be developed with social distancing guidelines. Children will also be required to follow social distancing guidelines in areas of the school where the dividers are not set up. Lunch will be served in the classrooms. 

“It will look a bit space-age with the plastic but will be safe and as close to normal as we can get,” Hall said.

For the schools with more students, fall planning is still in progress. The superintendents of schools in Polson, Pablo, Ronan, Arlee, St. Ignatius and Charlo are considering options. “We have professionals in each school doing the hard work to decide how they can do this well and best serve the students,” she said.

The districts collaborate on an action plan, but ultimately, each district makes their own decision on how to open with the final vote going to the school board. “In law, the trustees of every district are tasked with the final decisions. They use input from the community, superintendents and staff.”

On March 16, Governor Steve Bullock directed public schools in Montana to close and begin online learning in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus to protect children and communities. In April, the governor gave schools the choice to continue online learning, and all schools in Lake County remained closed. 

“The bigger schools will be making a decision about moving forward this fall,” Hall said. “We want to keep kids learning and safe.”


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