Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Reopening plans top discussion

Swan Valley School Board


SWAN VALLEY – The Swan Valley School Board discussed their options for returning to school in-person in the fall at their July 14 meeting. They agreed to solicit teacher, parent and community input via a survey before making their decision in August. In other business, they hired C&K Custodial owned by Chris and Kellie Auchenbach to do the maintenance and cleaning duties at the school and renewed Principal Ralph King’s and secretary Katie Gleason’s contracts for the 2020-2021 school year.

The main point of discussion was the 2020-2021 school reopening plan.

King presented the board with the four options laid out by the Governor’s office as well as preliminary opening protocols.

King felt that either returning to school in-person or educating students through distance learning were the best options for Swan Valley School. He did not feel the blended or mixture of blended in school and out of school models were the best fit but he welcomed the board’s thoughts and asked that they host a community forum to gather input from staff, parents and the community.

King’s preliminary opening protocols based on the information available now included: temperature checks for staff and students; social distancing while in the classrooms, hallways; on the bus and during physical education activities; designated times for hand washing/sanitizing; student meals eaten at their desks; face covering use by both students and staff and frequent communication with families of Swan Valley students. (Complete protocols available at

Board member Jimmy Boyd expressed that he doesn’t feel there would be the option to return to the classroom in the fall because the Missoula County Superintendent will not accept the risk of allowing children to come back to school. He feels the school needs to invest more energy in preparing to distance learn because he feels that is the most likely scenario come fall.

“We are not prepared to distance learn competitively,” said Boyd. “I’d rather set up a program that’s going to work for a while…that seems like we’ll have a better product in the end and I’m trying to focus on how can we get our kids smarter and they have to be safe, obviously.”

King agreed that they have to focus on the online learning piece but asked the board to consider a work session to gather community input and buy-in.

“I think we need to really work and reevaluate how we deliver our education if we have to go to an at-home learning scenario,” said King. “I don’t believe the school in and of itself has all the answers. I wanted to be more inclusive with more input [from families, community members, board members].”

Junior High teacher Colleen Harrington said to be asked to come up with a completely online scenario in the next two months that is effective would be incredibly challenging.

“It’s not the same as just teaching and throwing your stuff online,” said Harrington. “It’s a completely different paradigm.”

While Harrington admitted that distance learning works for some subjects, math is particularly a struggle online for her style of teaching and connecting with the students. She added that she had students that once they switched to distance learning this spring, she could never make the connection again despite several attempts to reach out.

“I don’t think we are going to come up with something in two months that is going to be adequate when it takes universities years to come up with an online teaching platform. It is very different,” sad Harrington. “That’s college and there’s a lot of onus and impetus on the independent nature of a kid to follow through. I think that’s why you lose kids.”

Harrington added that while she’s uncertain what kind of a product the teachers can come up with for distance learning in two months, she agrees that they need to be working on how to deliver more effectively from an online platform.

The board discussed how the teachers would feel going back to in-person delivery, how parents would respond to sending their children, liability and insurance coverage should they push for an exemption to open if the rest of the county goes with distance learning, equity in homes, grading, curriculum requirements and student transportation for a blended scenario. With all the ideas and scenarios presented, everyone agreed that no one really knows but no one thought it was going to go away before school starts.

Chair Nathan Richardson added that he feels that across the state and country there is a big push to get children back into school. While he’s not certain if that applies for the Swan, he feels they should plan for a total school closure, and if there is anything different then they can blend.

The board agreed that because the scenario for the reopening of the public school systems is unknown, they wanted to create a platform for parents, staff and community members to provide input regarding sample scenarios for public education that could be a fit for the Condon community. The board welcomes suggestions, referrals and ideas through a survey that will be available on survey monkey. The link will be provided on the school’s website and Facebook page. The board will then review the feedback before making a decision at their Aug. 11 meeting.

The board unanimously approved a one-year contract with C & K Custodial for $44,500.

Chris is a certified boiler operator and will be able to perform the monthly water assessments after he takes his test. The examinations to get his certification are not being offered right now due to COVID-19 but Chris said he is ready for it as soon as it is available.

Auchenbachs agreed to a pay reduction per month based on their percent worked each month if the school is closed. They also agreed that should they hire employees, the employees would have to pass a background check, would be covered by their workman’s compensation and the employees would be approved by the administrator.

The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Swan Valley School.


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