Reopening Committee discusses survey results

Alex Mitchell Star Intern
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

In the third meeting last night of the Miles City Unified School District Reopening Committee it was decided that they will recommend a three-tiered reopening to the school board after considering the results of the survey and seeing other reopening models.

The reopening methods will give teachers and students the option for remote learning or fully in-person learning for the first semester.

The three tiers will be based on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to shift to the other tiers or stay in the same depending on whether the situation improves or worsens.

Tier one would be fully inperson schooling, a “new normal,” as Superintendent Megan Brown called it.

Tier two would give a remote option to students and teachers with kindergarten through sixth grade having a blended model where students will commit to either fully in-person with certain social distancing measures made. Seventh through 12th grade will follow a hybrid model where classes will both be partially remote and in-person. For instance, electives such as shop classes which would be extremely difficult to teach remotely due to the hands-on nature of the class, according to Brown, could be taught remotely four days out of five, and then have a smaller group come into the shop on a selected day of the week. The option for fully remote learning for students would still be available, however they would probably have a smaller class selection.

Tier two is where Miles City was currently determined to be at the board meeting last night.

“Something has to be satisfied in order to not have reasonable accommodations, whether that is a vaccine or the cases ending or something else. Just because the risk factor might go down in Miles City somewhat, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make accommodations,” Brown said. “We have to meet the promises we have made. We’re still going to be required to give those kids a quality education.”

Tier three is where they will resume the fully remote education like the school district had in the spring. They would move up to this tier if conditions worsen or the Miles City Health Board recommends it or Gov. Steve Bullock issued a new directive or resumed a previous phase.

Out of the committee members, 10 out of the 11 voted in favor for the tiered model. School board member and committee member Donald Hoffman voted against it. Hoffman was not necessarily against it, however he said if the vote was presented to the school board with everyone unanimously in favor of it, they would be thought of as not studying their options well enough.

Part of their studying in the past week was sending out a survey to both parents and staff in the school district with the results being considered during the meeting.

The parental survey asked three questions: With a note that it may affect the students ability to participate, would they desire 100% faceto-face or 100% remote? Does your house have internet access to use for schoolwork? And do you have an adequate number of devices for the number of students in your household?

There were 636 surveys returned digitally. For Miles City’s approximately 1,600-student school district, 151 students requested 100% remote learning. That’s 16.4% of the students requesting 100% remote learning. As multiple students are in a household, surveys often represent multiple students.

“We would guess that we are pretty close to 100% representation with parents having multiple kids in the school district,” Brown said.

Per grade, nine students in kindergarten requested remote learning, six in first grade, eight in second grade, 10 in third grade, 17 in fourth grade, 21 in fifth grade, seven in sixth grade, 11 in seventh grade, eleven in eighth grade, 13 in ninth grade, 13 in tenth grade, 14 in eleventh grade and 11 in twelfth grade. A phone survey was also conducted with four parents. Three were planning to do in-person learning and one was planning to do fully remote learning.

— 29.7% of households said they don’t have an adequate amount of devices for the number of students they have in their household. In the phone survey, one of the four didn’t have adequate devices.

— 7.9% of households said they don’t have internet access required for remote schoolwork. In the phone survey, one of the four didn’t have needed internet access.

There were 127 responses to the staff survey sent out that asked whether they would personally prefer in-person education or remote education. Of those 127, 94 were teaching staff. Of the 94 teaching staff, 11 said that they have risk factors that make them especially vulnerable or are taking care of some who’s at a special risk and want to stay remote. Some said they would be comfortable teaching in person if special social distancing measures were made at the schools.

Out of the 64 of the teachers who said they would be comfortable with face-to-face teaching, would be willing to teach remote classes if needed.

At the meeting, the role that teachers would have with remote education was also discussed. An example given by Brown was that with a English teacher who might teach a couple grades or a grade in-person, might be considered the remote English teacher for several grades.

With the difference between in-person and remote learning, it was brought up that this might create issues of equity between the two education methods. That led the committee deciding upon the hybrid schooling that will be used for middle to high school that will allow people to take electives that wouldn’t be available to them with a blended model.

“People want some form of hybrid. They want them to be in-school and that they are getting some sort of social interaction, but also have some remote learning,” Brown said. “We have to identify what is going to be lost for those who choose remote learning. Any education in an area is better than nothing”

To help ensure equity, committee members discussed a remote learning supervisor for teachers that would be contingent on the state of the pandemic and the tier.

The tiered model they concluded upon at the meeting was somewhat inspired by the fivetiered model the Montana High School Association announced yesterday for sports with Tier 1 being limited restrictions and cancellations, and each tier on up being more severe in its restrictions than the last.

The tiered model will allow them to more easily transition from the methods if needed, according to school board Chairman Robert Wagner.

“I don’t think I see this whole opening as rigid, I think I see it as evolving as we continue to evaluate where we are at,” Wagner said.

The school board will hold a special meeting Thursday in person and in Zoom to hear the committee’s recommendation, give space for public comment, and to better work out the direction both the school board and committee should take before the final decision on reopening is made at their board meeting Aug. 11.

The next meeting will allow them to work out “all the nitty-gritties of reopening” according to Brown.

(Contact Alex Mitchell at mcstarintern@gmail.com or 406-234-0450.)

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