By Henry Netherland

Board approves Return to School Plan, revised opt-out form, cancels basketball season

Potomac Elementary School Board


December 24, 2020

POTOMAC - The Potomac School Board unanimously approved the Revised Return to School Plan with an amendment during their monthly meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.

In their discussion, the board talked about the transition process into online learning if an outbreak were to take place at the school. They decided that if the school hits its “trigger point,” then it would go online. The trigger point is when two teachers have to quarantine or 33% of students test positive.

In addition, board members unanimously voted to revise the Family Onsite Instruction Opt-Out form by removing the last sentence of the first paragraph. The sentence stated that if a child wanted to opt out for the quarter because he or she did not want to wear a face covering, then they would be denied because the reason would not be considered an extenuating circumstance.

Board Chair Cliff Vann said he wanted to strike the sentence so children would not have to create an excuse outside of not being comfortable with wearing a mask.

“All we’re doing there is forcing a kid to either consider that their parents are going to homeschool them or that they need to come up with a permissible reason,” he said. “And I’m really not ready to sign on for asking a kid to come up with an excuse outside of the one that’s honest.”

Because of the logistics that have to be taken to make adaptations, students are only able to opt-out if they are expected to be missing class for longer than just a few days. The opt-out option lasts the entire quarter.

Principal John Rouse said the process is more complicated than simply teaching students through a computer.

“It might sound like it’d be just a simple thing just to turn on the camera and go. Believe me, it’s not that simple,” he said. “We have a whole series of layers the teacher has to go through for every individual student that’s not in the classroom learning - through connectivity issues, through [being] sure that the kids have the right programs, [making sure] they know how to get up on that program on their computer.”

To avoid an outbreak, the board unanimously approved cancelling the basketball season this year. They originally hoped to have a five-week season for boys and girls, but due to the rising number of cases they decided to postpone the season to next year. Some of the teachers also act as coaches so they wanted to avoid crossover contagion.

“We want to keep our kids in schools as long as we can,” Vann said. “That’s the number one priority.”

The school continued with its Christmas program on Wednesday, Dec. 16 and Thursday, Dec. 17. For the program to take place, the Missoula City-County Health Department approved the plan submitted by Rouse. Guests were capped at 70 for each program allowing students to invite up to four guests. Audience members had their temperatures checked before entering the gym and seats were spaced six feet apart.

The program was live streamed but not recorded because of legalities.

Early on in the meeting, students from the eighth grade class presented updates on the fundraiser for their trip to Canyonlands National Park. So far they have raised around $17,390, but they still need to collect $6,965. Since the last meeting, the class has gotten bus request costs cut in half. Current fundraisers include raffles and sales for pizza, candles and Potomac gear.

During his report, Rouse went over the school’s staff-developed instructional framework that determines how lessons are delivered. One strategy to invoke student engagement was creating “beginning lessons’’ in which the instructor would explain the lesson’s overall purpose at the beginning in order to hook students into the subject. Teachers are also using advanced organizers to help set up the what, why and how of lessons.

Rouse then moved on to the budget and finance section. He said the school had to spend all of its COVID relief funding before their Dec. 31 deadline or the leftover portions would have to be given back. The school received $38,508 in coronavirus relief funds in August but Rouse was able to secure an additional $7,308. 

Funds went towards ductwork modification to provide fresher ventilation and an academic push program to provide instructional intervention for students needing academic support due to the school’s closure in the spring. It also went towards additional payroll for substitutes, health and safety equipment, sanitation supplies, masks, thermometers, new tables, student desks, playground equipment and remote learning equipment.

The board unanimously approved Aline Jouandeau as the school’s new substitute teacher, custodian and cook. They also unanimously approved classifying several smartboards, several projectors and a copier as surplus so that they could be sold, recycled or donated.

The board closed the meeting to conduct Rouse’s evaluation.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 11 at 7 p.m.


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