SLE superintendent expands on reopening guidelines for fall

SEELEY LAKE – Seeley Lake Elementary Superintendent Josh Gibbs shared SLE’s proposed reopening guidelines Friday, July 31 via video. He emphasized this plan is fluid and will change based on the state and local restrictions and case counts in Missoula County. These guidelines will be included in the reopening plan that will be presented and approved by the SLE School Board at their meeting at 5:30 p.m., Aug. 17.

Gibbs said the guidelines utilized the best information and guidelines currently available from the Center for Disease Control, Missoula City-County Health Department, Montana State Office of Public Instruction and staff and community survey input. Gibbs also worked with area schools but still accounted for the uniqueness of SLE.

The reopening guidelines include a phased approach that aligns with the Governor’s reopening plan. The school has the ability to adjust the phase backwards based on case counts, but they cannot go beyond the state’s reopening phase. Currently Montana is in Phase 2.

A summary of the phased reopening:

• Phase 0 – Stay at home order is in place or school is closed due to active cases. Facilities will be closed and students will be doing full time remote learning.

• Phase 1 – Blended model of on-site and remote learning model where group size is limited to 15. District may move to this if there is a concern of rising COVID cases. Students will be divided into two groups alphabetically and will align with Seeley-Swan High School grouping. They will spend two days in-person and work two days remotely with the fifth day used for additional help and one-on-one instruction where needed.

Phase 2 – The school will operate on-site, daily at nearly full capacity. Normal school operations and activities will be modified to limit group size to less than 50 and limit mixing students.

Phase 3 – Return to ‘normal’ with on-site learning for all students and no restrictions on extra curricular activities.

Transportation and School Day

Parents will be asked to screen their children before sending them to school.

“If they have had a fever or had any signs [of COVID] keep them home,” said Gibbs. “I know that is difficult if you are working but if they show those signs when they get to school, we will send them back.”

Gibbs recognized that this may be difficult during flu season, that is what is being asked now and will be adjusted when needed.

He said parents are encouraged to transport their children to school because they will not be adding extra bus routes. For those without this option, students will be assigned no more than one per seat, when possible, and families will be grouped together. Everyone will be required to wear a mask during Phase 1 and 2. Bus seats and hand rails will be sanitized following every route.

Temperature checks will be required before entering school. For out-of-town bus routes, Gibbs said they may do temperature checks before students get on the bus so they aren’t transported to school only to be sent home.

The school day will be adjusted to accommodate the bus schedule that runs with SSHS. While not certain yet, Gibbs estimates SLE start time will change to around 8:30 a.m.

Students will be kept together with their class, increasing the ability for contact tracing if needed and limiting the potential for transmission. Classes will maintain three to six feet distance in classrooms. When this is not possible, SLE will install dividers on desks and at work stations. They are also using some of the COVID funding the school received to move classes outside while the weather cooperates.

Meals will be eaten in the classroom or outside. If multiple classes are eating outside or have recess at the same time, the groups will be at different locations to maintain separation.

There will be frequent sanitizing of high traffic areas including bathrooms, classrooms and door handles. Playground equipment will be sanitized when necessary.

SLE ordered three electro-static sprayers that emit a mist that makes it very easy to clean surfaces. They are hospital grade cleaning that can be used on all surfaces including electronics. Hand sanitizer will be available in each classroom, hand washing breaks will be scheduled and sanitizing wipes/stations will be strategically placed throughout the school.

“I assure you we will make every possible effort to make sure our areas are cleaned and sanitized for your children,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs said SLE must follow and will implement the Missoula County guidelines and the state directives regarding face coverings, adjusting as changes are made. If masks are required, mask breaks will be scheduled for all grade levels. If there is not a mask mandate, at either the Missoula County or state level, Gibbs said masks may still be required in certain areas such as hallways and buses. SLE will provide masks to those who need them.

Any staff or students that develops symptoms during the day will be put in a room that is isolated from others until they can be picked up. This is a safety measure to limit potential exposure.

Remote Learning

If SLE is in Phase 0 or Phase 1, Gibbs said remote learning will include a structured schedule and attendance will be taken. Every day there will be time set aside for live video classes where the teacher will teach the lesson. Students will be required to keep their camera on during all live classes and are asked to be sitting at a deck or table.

“It is school,” said Gibbs adding the dress code applies. “We want students up and we want them sitting up and participating.”

Gibbs added that they are looking to find some background options for students. This will help address the concern that having students on video in their home can be invasive. Being able to utilize a background option will provide more privacy.

In addition to the live classes, the afternoon will be set aside for individual work, social/emotional opportunities and one-on-one instruction and questions. All school rules and regulations will be enforced and SLE will do their best to make sure everyone has the technology and networking capability to plug in.

“This will help not only the teachers, students and parents, but in a remote setting I think it will be much more beneficial to the students’ learning,” said Gibbs.

If SLE is operating in Phase 1 or 2, families will have the option to choose 100% remote option. Students will check-in daily with their teacher and there will be an instructional paraprofessional available to help with work. Live video lessons may be available so students can follow along with their classmates.

Parents must complete the form that will be sent out this week selecting this option. Those who choose this would stay in this option until midterm of the first quarter in early October and will not be eligible for school sports and activities.

“We just want to take the time to try and get all of our things and procedures into place and we don’t want to have it where students might be jumping back and forth,” said Gibbs.

If a case is confirmed in the school

If there is a confirmed positive COVID-19 case at SLE, it will be up to the Missoula City-County Health Department to do the contract tracing, determine close contacts and identify those required to quarantine. While SLE will assist with this, Gibbs said it is not their job.

If there is an outbreak in a classroom, SLE may put that class to remote learning or the school will revert to Phase 0. Gibbs said the decision for a total school closure will depend on the amount of spread within the school and will be made with the advice and guidance of the Health Department. Affected areas and classrooms will be closed off for cleaning.

“That for me is something I want to continue to develop – If we have a case in our school, what is our response and how are we going to handle that,” said Gibbs.

At the end of the video, Gibbs reiterated that these are just the guidelines that will be included in the reopening plan by phase and they will be adjusted as needed.

“I hope this gives you a better picture of what school will look like no matter what phase we are in,” said Gibbs. “We are really trying to come up with the best efforts and the best plan for everybody. Education is our priority for a school. At this time we also need to make sure safety is a number one priority as well.”

Gibbs will present the final reopening plan for board approval at the SLE School Board meeting Monday, Aug. 17 at 5:30 p.m. The board will also decide what phase the school will start in the first day of school, Sept. 8. Comments, questions and concerns can be directed to Gibbs at or call him at SLE 406-677-2265.


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