Jefferson High School

Jefferson High School is looking at a modified block schedule as part of its draft reopening plans as the threat of COVID-19 continues into fall. 

School is set to open Aug. 24, according to Superintendent Tim Norbeck.

The schedule incorporates an “A” day, on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a “B” day for Tuesdays and Thursdays, according to a plan released by Norbeck on July 21 to the Board of Trustees. 

The alternating days is a way to minimize student contact, according to the plan. Norbeck said the alternating days, four periods a day, are for all students attending in person classes. Norbeck did not provide a further breakdown on the A-B plan. 

Face masks are recommended, and in situations where social distancing is not possible, they will be required. 

That could be in classrooms or other locations, said Norbeck. 

Students will be required to wear masks and undergo a temperature screening to ride the bus. 

Families will be asked to help with determining the health of students and the school is currently working on a plan to access buses for transportation, said Norbeck. 

Students will remain in the same groups or classrooms, with teachers rotating when practical, according to the plan. Other considerations include two lunches and hall passing periods divided by grade level. 

Norbeck said the school has purchased 300 masks with the Jefferson Panther mascot and students will get one for free. 

The plan follows recommendations from the state, the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Jefferson County Public Health Department, and also includes cleaning protocols  and accomodations for teachers and students in at-risk groups. 

Meanwhile, the Montana High School Association governs high school athletics in the state and its executive board met Monday to decide on those activities will be conducted this fall. See page 7 for more information.

The Jefferson High School Board of Trustees also adopted several pandemic-related policies at its July 21 meeting that covers school events and an opt-out option for those who do not want to return to in-person instruction due to COVID-19. The policies came from the Montana School Boards Association, said Norbeck. 

Plans are being developed for staff and students to teach or learn remotely, said Norbeck. 

“In the case of a teacher, a substitute or paraprofessional would be assigned to the classroom. At this time, no teachers have indicated not returning to in person instruction,” he said.

The substitute or paraprofessional would man the classroom while the teacher provides remote instruction, said Norbeck. 

Some of the alternative learning methods outlined by the school’s COVID Committee include cable access educational television, cable educational shows, video-streaming, all with closed caption), textbook and study guide depositories with drive-through capabilities and teleconferencing. 

JHS Principal Mike Moodry said that if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, the school will close for two to five days. 

The two to five day timeframe is based on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and the Jefferson County Public Health Department, Norbeck said. 

At the same time, Norbeck said the school has received calls from a handful of families stating they are uncomfortable with sending their children back to school at this time. 

Norbeck told the Trustees that federal CARES funding has allowed the school to hire a part-time custodian for during the day, as well as cleaning supplies and laptop computers with camera and audio capabilities for teachers in the event that the state reverts to Phase 1. Phase 1 included stay-at-home orders and the closing of all schools earlier this year as the pandemic began to appear in Montana. 

Moodry also went over a survey he wanted to distribute to parents as a way to get some idea of where parents are concerning the return to in-person instruction. 

Moodry went over the 15-question survey that probed for information such as a family’s working situation, that is, would the family have two working parents, one working parent or another type of arrangement. Other questions covered parents’ comfort level with various health guidelines, such as temperature checks; and would parents like the school to explore other types of learning methods, such as online or paper packets. The survey also asked questions about online learning, such as the fear of students falling behind, the lack of monitoring, and its lack of rigor and relevance. The survey asked families what the school would need to do to make online learning successful. 

After listening to Moodry go through the questions, Trustees Chairperson Cami Robson said the survey made it sound like the school has yet to make any preparations, although that wasn’t true. 

Trustee Buster Bullock agreed, and said some of the questions appeared rather personal, such as a family’s work situation.

Robson suggested prefacing the survey with the school’s actual written plan and having the Trustees go over the questions some more before sending it out. The Trustees agreed that was a good course of action. 

“Parents want to know now,” said Robson about the reopening plan. Sending it out sooner, she said, will also show what school administrators have been working on all summer. 

Moodry said he was trying to get some feedback, particularly about the number of students who did plan to return. 

If the school loses students, it loses funding, he said. 

Another concern is how this will work with the teacher’s union, such as the requirement that the school provide teachers with a work free lunch, said Norbeck.

“This is the most complex thing I’ve done in 56 years,” he said. 

Norbeck was also concerned about the lingering effects of the shutdown and the continued stress due to the pandemic.

Moodry said some students “have fallen off the face of the earth” during virtual instruction. 

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