Swan Valley School to open in-person, offering remote option

Swan Valley School Board

SWAN VALLEY – At their meeting Aug. 11, the Swan Valley School Board voted 3 to 1 to approve Principal Ralph King’s recommended guidelines for reopening Sept. 8. The Swan Valley School will begin face-to-face instruction five days a week with preschool suspended until further notice. The school is also working on an avenue for families that want to keep their child home due to the current health situation. The Opening Guidelines are subject to revision at any point should the directives from the Governor or Missoula City-County Health Department change.

“In the coming weeks, we are asking for flexibility and understanding as things are changing all the time,” wrote King in a letter to parents. “It is our desire to provide a learning environment that is as close to “normal” for our students and staff as possible while being required to follow the directives and mandates of the governor and the Missoula County Health Department.”

King told the board that his recommendation to open the school to in-person learning was due to several factors.

First, King feels the socialization part of school is very important for students. After visiting with students this summer, they all asked if they were going to get to go back to school.

Second, King feels the guidelines can maintain safety for students and staff. He acknowledged that all the details are not worked out and there will be many conversations with the staff to figure out how that will look prior to the first day of school.

“The guidelines are only as good as your implementation of it,” said King.

According to the recommended guidelines, King asks that all parents check their child’s temperature before they get on the bus so they are not sent to school with a temperature of 100.4 or higher. Upon arrival at school, students and staff will have their temperature taken again. If they have a temperature reading of 100.4 or higher, they will need to go home. Students will be isolated in the office until they are picked up.

Students riding on the bus will be required to wear a mask and will sit in an assigned seat with maximum distancing. Family units will sit together.

All student desks will be placed six feet apart for social distancing when possible and they will eat lunch at their desks. Masks will be required in the sixth through eighth grade classroom per Missoula County Health Department order. Outdoor instruction will be used as much as possible to allow for mask breaks.

Frequent sanitization of indoor surfaces will be done throughout the day and students will wash their hands a minimum of twice each morning and afternoon.

“A positive way of looking at [the guidelines] is you are protecting yourself and protecting your fellow students. If we all do this we can get rid of these masks for the rest of our lives. The more we don’t do it, the more the disease spreads. Most kids can understand helping their fellow man,” said Trustee Marcia Tapp. “You need to be really aware, and the students need to be really aware, that [COVID] is here and we don’t want it. The way you can prevent it is doing these simple things - wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain six-foot distance. It is elementary.”

Other board members did not think it was that simple. They felt it would be difficult for the staff to enforce wearing masks for seven hours a day. King said that if there is an issue of non-compliance, he will bear the burden of enforcement and does not expect the staff to address those issues.

“I will deal with it positively,” said King. “That is why you hired me.”

King recommended suspending preschool at the start of school. This decision will be reviewed as the year progresses.

“I’m a preschool advocate, I think that is [very important] for our school,” said King. “However, at this point in time, with everything else we are trying to do and the age of that population of students, I think it would be rather difficult to maintain. I think we are giving them such a wrong sense of what school is.”

Trustee Jim Boyd suggested the teachers share an outline of the materials they are teaching with the parents to help them understand the sequence for the year and to increase parent interaction. He feels that the likelihood is high that the students will bounce between in-person and remote learning so that would help parents be more engaged and help keep the flow of learning going if students are put into remote learning.

King said he would like to offer a remote option for families who are concerned about returning to in-person instruction. While the details of how that will be accomplished would still need to be worked out before they begin, if the school does not offer an online option and families choose to keep their students home, then the school would not receive the funding for those students.

Teaching both an in-person class and to students at home was the biggest concern for teachers at the meeting. While they were exploring options, neither knew how they would successfully implement a blended model.

Tapp suggested just live streaming or recording the teacher so the students at home could follow along.

The teachers responded that while that might work well in a lecture setting, when they are teaching multiple grades, they move around a lot and it would be a challenge to place the camera to not only capture them instructing but also produce clear audio. Wearing a mask would also dampen the sound further complicating the challenge for audio.

King said he doesn’t know how the blended model will work. An online scenario with a tutor may be the best option. He felt it is too much to expect for the teachers to work in the classroom with some of their students and work with a few remotely.

“With the extenuating circumstances and the pandemic up in the air, I just feel like we need to open it up to [remote learning],” said King. “While I can’t guarantee anything, everyone should know that, but we are going to follow the guidelines and keep kids safe.”

The board approved the reopening guidelines 3 to 1 with Randy Williams absent. Todd McNutt voted against the guidelines.

“I really appreciate it. I think it is a good plan, I just can’t do [the masks],” said McNutt. “It is a protest vote. I think we need to, I just don’t like Missoula County telling us we need to wear this.”

Following the meeting Aug. 12, Governor Steve Bullock amended his statewide face covering order to include five years old and older at schools. King wrote in his letter to parents that families concerned about their child/children wearing a mask for an entire day at school, that they are exploring options to accommodate this.

In other business:

• District Clerk Heather Mincey told the board that Seeley Lake Elementary welcomes Swan Valley students to participate in sports even though they are unsure what that looks like.

• The board unanimously approved the teacher, staff and substitute list presented for the 2020-2021 school year. Preschool teacher Danni Parcell would remain on staff to teach physical education and as an aide.

• The Board unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and transportation routes.

• The Board was presented with the Series 1900 Board Policies that will be reviewed at the September meeting.

The next board meeting will be held Sept. 8 at 7 p.m.


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