Back to school

Plans approved by public health, boards
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Article Image Alt Text

Almost six months ago the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a pandemic and school closures followed soon after.

Five months later, superintendents have submitted reopening plans that have been approved by Stillwater County public health officials, including numerous amendments such as Governor Steve Bullock’s mask mandate in schools.

The mandate from the governor gave support to public health officials, who were taking considerable heat after a countywide decision was made to require masks for school age children that opt for in-person learning despite intense pushback from some parents.

Inconsistencies have resulted in more questions than answers.

County Health Nurse Natasha Sailer said she looked for six elements in each reopening plan.

• First and foremost, the plan had to demonstrate flexibility. The board must offer alternative solutions for the proposed plan in case an outbreak were to occur.

• The plan must reflect Governor Bullock’s Phase II and the Office of Public Instruction’s specific guidelines based on that phase.

• Superintendents must demonstrate that they will enforce social distancing among staff and students.

• Sailer also looked for “what type of precautions [administration is] taking to ensure the health of students and staff alike? Is this increased cleaning, social distancing, mask requirements, individual school supplies?”

• There must be a plan of action in place if a student begins presenting symptoms.

• And finally, superintendents had to demonstrate that they’d be willing to work with Public Health during the emergency.

Each school district in Stillwater County has been approved for reopening.

Below is a summarization of plans from Absarokee, Columbus, Fishtail, Molt, Park City and Rapelje. Reed Point’s plan has not yet been recieved by the News.


Superintendent Meredith Feddes has opted for the cohort learning plan for junior and high school. Students will be split up into A and B groups and alternate between in-person and remote learning.

During remote learning days, students must be online at the start of the class, participating over Zoom or Google Classroom.

Elementary students will be strictly inperson with enforced masks or face shields and social distancing.

Absarokee students will see a plethora of new signs this fall reminding students of the Physical Distancing Protocols, which will be reiterated over the intercom.

Feddes has arranged for tape and other markings to indicate a six-foot distance between students and staff in key areas such as playground lines and bus lines.

Signage from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) on how to use face masks, how to wash hands and how to use hand sanitizer will be posted throughout the school and in restrooms.

Lessons about face coverings and hygiene will be integrated into the curriculum.

On warm, sunny days Feddes hopes to hold classes outside when possible. And when learning must take place inside, classrooms will be reconfigured to ensure social distancing.

If a student begins showing symptoms and must be sent home they will wait in a designated sick room or isolation space until a parent or guardian can pick them up. Access to the area will be extremely limited and cleaned after every use.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be provided for staff treating an ill student.

Break rooms, bathrooms, and other common areas will be disinfected frequently with a scheduled “sign off” date and time posted.

In her plan, Feddes promises portable protective barriers to place between teachers and students.

All drinking fountains will be turned off.

Feddes has eliminated policies that link grading and attendance and will implement plans for flexible remote learning to allow for missed in-person instruction.

The bus routes will continue but with social distancing guidelines in place, seat assignments, mask or face shield requirements and sanitization protocols after every trip.

The plan included a section for vulnerable populations. Feddes wrote, “students identified as immunocompromised or have a health condition that may affect their ability to attend school will be reviewed on a case by case basis. If students miss school due to a health condition, consider a 504 evaluation.”

Feddes was not available to comment on the section, but Sailer did her best to provide an explanation.

“In regards to the masks and people saying that their kids can’t wear them from a medical condition, what would happen is that the school will require proof from their medical provider and then would have to provide a 504 to ensure that the medical providers recommendations are being met and followed for proper care of that patient in the school setting,” Sailer said.

Absarokee’s first day of school is Aug. 26.


The Columbus school board finalized its reopening plan at the Aug. 18 meeting.

The board agreed to proceed with a blended learning platform in which students will attend in-person classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. This applies to kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Wednesdays the school will be deep cleaned, teachers will be available for one-on-one help for remote and in-person students and remote learners will take extra curricular classes that cannot be completed at home.

Superintendent Jeff Bermes stressed that Wednesday is still an instructional day for all students. Kids will be sent home with schoolwork to complete and turn in to teachers the next day.

Students in remote learning are required to complete the same lessons as in-person students and are held to the same educational requirements.

Bermes warned that remote learning will be “eight times more difficult” than the distance learning that occurred late last spring.

The district will provide computers to those students who need them to complete assignments for the district. Bermes is also looking into ordering hotspots for families who do not have Internet.

Students will have the opportunity to switch to in-person learning up until September 8. There will not be another opportunity to change platforms until the start of the second semester.

Bermes advised parents who are on the fence to try in-person learning first.

“It is much easier to switch to remote,” Bermes said at the school board meeting.

When social distancing, sneeze guards or Plexiglas screens are in use, masks will be optional.

Students will be able to use their lockers as long as masks are worn in the hallways.

Transportation will be provided for out-of-town students only. Masks will be required while on the bus.

Students who have a health issue that would prevent them from wearing a mask must provide a note from a doctor and undergo a 504 evaluation, according to Bermes.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling.

A 504 evaluation occurs when a student requires special care while at school that must be overseen by a teacher, school nurse or other administration.

Columbus school District has a contingency plan in place if there is increased spread among staff and students.

The school will switch to the cohort learning plan. Students in each grade would be divided into two groups. One group would attend school on Mondays and Thursdays. The other group would attend on Tuesdays and Fridays.

School will not be in session on Wednesdays. The same protocol for Wednesdays would stay in place.

Lockers would not be used if the district must resort to plan B.

Columbus elementary school will start on Aug. 27. The middle school and high school will start on Aug. 26.


Molt and Fishtail have very similar reopening plans.

Kids will return to traditional in-person learning with face masks required and social distancing will be maintained when possible.

Each student will have their own supplies and will keep their belongings separate from others.

Materials that need to be shared will be disinfected between uses.

Hand washing will be supervised by a staff member before meals. Hand sanitizer will be available if hand washing is not possible.

Fishtail will require transportation aides to disinfect buses twice a day. Aides will disinfect both hallways and bathrooms twice a day.

Transportation aides will check temperatures as kids enter the bus. If a student has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit they will be returned to their parents.

Parents will be required to stay at the bus stops until their student is accepted after screening and temperature checks.

The Fishtail plan includes a bullet that reads, “students will be required to wear a mask while being transported on the bus. They will remove the mask as they exit the bus and the masks will be collected and stored by the bus aide.”

Those who do not ride the bus will be checked at school and returned to a parent if they have a fever.

If a student or staff member at Fishtail or Molt tests positive for COVID-19, the school will be closed at the discretion of Public Health to engage in cleaning and disinfecting per CDC guidelines. Remote learning will take place until the school opens again.

Both schools will work with parents who have kids with special needs.

Molt’s first day of school is Aug. 27.


Park City school district provided an updated reopening plan on its website on Aug. 18.

Students were asked to make a semester-long commitment by Aug. 12. Those who chose to stay home were required to make their decision by Aug. 15.

Park City schools will operate on a five-day week.

Grades kindergarten through fifth will function within their classrooms as much as possible, meaning teachers for library, music, art, etc. will rotate to different classrooms. Physical education and recess are still on, but parents should expect some modifications, though Superintendent Dan Grabowska does not list what those may be.

“Grades 6-12 will follow their schedule, however release times from classes may vary by grade to limit the number of students in the hall at any given time,” according to the plan.

Students will not be permitted to use lockers and must carry their belongings throughout the day.

Locker rooms will not be used. Alternative dress out plans are still pending.

“As much spacing as possible will be developed in classes like band. But with a small school and increasing enrollment, it will not always be possible to observe the six foot social distancing,” Grabowska wrote.

For remote learners, he says grades kindergarten through third “would likely use packets with some more online components.”

For grades four through 12, teachers will stream portions of their classes that students would be expected to participate in over Google Classroom.

Grades six through 12 will utilize the online platforms heavily with classes being more synchronous for teacher provided lessons.

Grabowska says there will “possibly” be another bus on the Yellowstone Bluff route.

Students from the same household will sit together on the bus, otherwise there will be one student to each seat.

Plastic drapes will separate seats and masks will be required during transportation.

As for sports, the district will allow a limited number of spectators and each attendee will be required to wear masks.

Cleaning will be a top priority and will be reviewed regularly by the administration.

“The district has the cleaning materials developed to sanitize for these types of situations. We will explore any new product that may work better. There will be a defined cleaning plan,” according to the document.

Cleaning will take place after school everyday, and common areas will be cleaned periodically throughout the day.

Grabowska plans on taking daily temperatures for students and staff, but failed to estimate how long this process may take when prompted over an email.

He also said he does not know how many staff members will be taking temperatures.

Any student with a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will be sent home. Students who are symptomatic or sick will wait for parents in the front area of the school across from the front office. This area will be cleaned as soon as it is cleared.

“Our school cannot meet the six feet social distancing guidelines, therefore by wearing masks students are offered the protections and safe learning environment that is so important in providing a meaningful educational experience,” Grabowska wrote in the plan.

The district will approach mask wearing as a “teachable thing,” Grabowska said.

Recesses will be staggered. There will not be any supervised playground time before or after school.

Breakfast will be served in the classrooms to grades kindergarten through sixth after first period starts. Kids seventh grade through twelfth may grab their breakfast before the first bell and eat in their classrooms.

Lunch will be served in the classroom to grades kindergarten through fifth. Grades six through 12 may eat in the cafeteria, but due to social distancing rules, there will be a limited number of seats.

Students will be able to eat in designated classrooms or other areas of the school.

“This is going to be a working document. This pandemic is a very dynamic and unstable thing that can change school plans at a moment’s notice,” Grabowska said.

The plan does not include a process for those with health issues that would exempt them from wearing a mask or for special needs kids whom often float to different classrooms.

Park City’s first day of school is Aug. 24.


Superintendent Dennis Gerke plans to return to in-person learning with the same social distancing protocols and plexiglass supplements.

“The school campus will be closed to all students leaving at lunch time as it has in the past. Student desks will be spaced as far apart as the classroom allows, and plexiglass barriers will be used if needed. If tables are used, social distancing and sanitizing practices will be utilized as part of the teacher’s classroom management plan,” Gerke wrote in the plan.

He is looking into staggering recesses and methods for cleaning the equipment between uses.

Lunch schedules may be altered to allow for proper social distancing in the lunchroom during meals with proper disinfecting between groups. Lunch could possibly be delivered to each classroom to reduce contact with others. Time will be allowed for cleaning between groups

Signs will be placed throughout the school to continue to educate students, staff and community about the safe protocols in regard to COVID-19.

Resources will be available and provided to staff, parents, and students to help them deal with trauma associated with COVID-19.

Gerke said the bus driver might be asked to take temperatures before boarding the bus. Drivers will sanitize the bus between routes. When possible students will be assigned seats and only one student per seat where possible

Concessions will be provided at games and will be served in a safe manner following the recommended guidelines by properly trained personnel.

Rapelje’s first day of school is Aug. 24.