Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

SLE to reopen in-person, remote option available

Seeley Lake Elementary School Board


August 27, 2020

SEELEY LAKE – The Seeley Lake Elementary School Board approved the re-opening plan for the 2020-2021 school year at their Aug. 17 meeting. SLE will be welcoming all students back to school in person Sept. 8. Families do have the option for 100% remote learning with a deadline to submit the SLE Family Onsite instruction opt-out form to SLE by Aug. 28.

The board also received resignation letters from junior high teacher Bridget Laird and sixth grade teacher Sharon Teague. They approved several hires and are still accepting applicants for one certified teacher and a part time custodian.

Laird worked at SLE in various capacities for the past eight years. Last year she was the junior high English and history teacher and Outdoor Education Program Director. She was offered the English teaching position at Seeley-Swan High School and accepted.

Teague, who has taught for 23 years at SLE, resigned because of the “new normal” presented by the COVID virus. She realized she cannot teach in person with students and maintain quarantine parameters to be with her daughter when her grandchild is born this fall. She offered her service in a remote capacity for students online and hopes to continue her involvement with SLE as a mentor, substitute teacher and through after school programs.

The school board approved hiring Julee Samuli as a certified teacher pending OPI licensure, Roxie Apland as a certified special education teacher, Cindy Poteet as the full time, head janitor, Laura Devins as a special education paraprofessional and Colleen Carroll as the kitchen assistant.

Superintendent Josh Gibbs said that because Poteet doesn’t have her boiler’s license, they would look at contracting with someone in the area to handle that for now.

SLE Reopen Plan approved in Phase 2

Gibbs presented the survey results from parents regarding reopening for the 2020-2021 school year. About 50% of the families at SLE responded.

Of those that responded 60% said they intended to send their child to school if it reopened in person, 32% were uncertain and 8% said they would not send their child. Only 38% of families said they would return with minimal or no concerns, 35% said they were comfortable with some concerns, 25% said they were not comfortable.

The biggest split was regarding face coverings. In the survey, 56% percent said they would send their child if mask use was a condition of returning and 43% said they would not.

“This is very concerning to me,” said Gibbs adding that he was expecting a handful of families to choose this option until the Governor mandated masks for five-years-olds and up. “If we have an abundance of students opt-out that way, I’m very concerned of making sure that the online learning is a valid, positive learning model.”

Gibbs explained that when parents choose the 100% remote option, their child is still registered with the SLE school district. SLE provides the lesson planning and academic support. Because the student is still enrolled in the district, SLE continues to receive the funding.

However if a family chooses the homeschooling option, parents are required to find their own curriculum, prepare lessons and provide all academic support for their child. The district will also not receive funding for that student.

Families also must un-enroll their child with SLE and enroll with the Missoula County Superintendent of Schools to ensure they are meeting all the requirements. For more information visit and

Depending how many parents choose the 100% remote option, Gibbs said SLE will look into getting cameras in the classrooms so they can follow along with the lessons. They are also working on purchasing enough Chromebooks for every student to have access.

If parents choose remote learning for their child, they will have the option to return to in-person learning at the mid-term and quarter breaks. Parents can choose the homeschool option and/or reenroll their students at any time.

“This has been a very difficult planning process because I want to take every precaution that we can to keep everyone safe but I do believe that being in person, in the classroom is the best way to learn,” said Gibbs.

The reopening guidelines remained very similar to those Gibbs presented in a 30-minute video posted to SLE’s Facebook page July 31 and outlined in the Aug. 6 issue of the Pathfinder entitled, “SLE superintendent expands on reopening guidelines for fall.”

Gibbs recommended starting in Phase 2, on-site learning every day for all students with a modified schedule and 100% remote learning option, based on active case numbers and additional data presented by Missoula City-County Health Department. Buses would arrive at SLE at 8:15 a.m. and classes would start at 8:30 a.m.

Parents are asked to go through the health screening checklist with their child at home every day before sending them to school. Parents are encouraged to transport their children. However, if they do ride the bus they will be required to wear a mask and will have an assigned seat.

Temperature checks will be done at the school, prior to class starting. If a student or staff develops symptoms during the day they will be sent home immediately. If they did not test positive for COVID or identified as a close contact, they can return after 24 hours of being symptom free.

Visitors in Phases 1-2 must be pre-approved to enter the school.

Face coverings

SLE will enforce all state and county mandates which is currently five and older as set by the Governor. Gibbs said there would be scheduled mask breaks and opportunities for outdoor learning.

“We are not a private business,” said Gibbs explaining that some local business are choosing not to enforce the face covering mandate. “We do receive federal funding or state funding so we have a lot more to lose.”

In the absence of statewide or local mandates, SLE would require masks in certain scenarios including riding the bus and in the hallways. However, it will be optional in the classroom.

In the event that a mask mandate only applies to half of a class due to a mix of age, the mandate will be implemented for that entire class. The board agreed face coverings should be required for all students in the transitional kindergarten because it is a mix of four and five-year-olds.

For those students who may have medical conditions inhibiting their ability to wear a mask, SLE has a process in place to allow for accommodations with medical documentation. Parents are encouraged to talk with Gibbs.

Vice Chair Doc Welter said it is really important for parents to share the importance of wearing masks with their children.

“They just have to tell their kids, you have to wear your masks, just like you do when you go to the store,” said Welter. “It is going to be tough…but if we don’t and we go back to ground zero, then boy, we have lost a lot of ground.”

Chair Kyle Marx added, “Hopefully the kids are understanding that this is the way that it has to be, this is what the rules of the school are going to be.”

Gibbs said that they are hoping to install transparent barriers in some of the classrooms. He will be reaching out to the community to see if there would be volunteers willing to help construct these once the design is formalized.

Extracurricular activities and sports

Extracurricular activities and sports will be offered and are open to all students participating in in-person or remote learning options.

“This is a change,” said Gibbs.

He explained that before the mask mandate, families choosing remote learning were doing so because of concerns about catching COVID. With the mask mandate, there will be families that choose the remote learning option because they don’t want their child wearing a mask all day.

Participants will have their temperature checked at the start of each activity. Traveling for sports will be determined by current status of COVID and the ability to find teams to play. If traveling is not possible, intramural sports will be offered.

“I’m very strong in wanting to offer intramurals so students, even if they’re not going to play different schools,” said Gibbs. “They can come here, get the practice, burn off some energy, take those masks off, play those games and build the skills.”

Fall sports will start practices as normal. Out of district play will be evaluated based on the COVID data Sept. 14. Based on that decision games will start Sept. 17.

Confirmed COVID case in the school

Gibbs said the plan SLE would follow if there were a confirmed positive within the school is the same as Missoula County Public School’s plan that was developed in partnership with the Missoula City-County Health Department. The Health Department will do all the contact tracing for SLE and will provide the release for a confirmed case or close contact to return to school.

If there is a confirmed case, they would be required to isolate until they are cleared by the Health Department. The Health Department will contact the staff members to start the investigation to determine the close contacts.

If someone were identified as a close contact, within six feet of a confirmed case for more than 15 minutes regardless of mask use, they would be required to quarantine for 14 days.

Gibbs said SLE will work with the Health Department to determine if students can remain in class or if remote learning would be the best option to limit the spread. Depending on the situation and number of students affected, SLE may send letters to families within the class or the entire school notifying them of the situation. He assured the board that the identity of the confirmed case and close contacts would be protected.

The full reopening plan and onsite instruction opt-out form are available on SLE’s website,

In other business:

• The board unanimously approved the budget.

• The board unanimously approved changes to Board Policies #3010, 3000, 3005, 5000 and 5005. They will continue to update these at subsequent meetings.

A special meeting to approve hires will be held Aug. 31 at 10 a.m. at SLE. The next regular board meeting will be Sept. 21 at 5:30 p.m.


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