District floats idea of bringing back 3rd-graders in January

Sam Klomhaus
Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Livingston School District is targeting Jan. 11 for bringing back thirdgraders to school four days a week, East Side School Principal Bob Stevenson said Tuesday.

Speaking at the Livingston School District Board meeting Tuesday, Stevenson said the next few months are going to be really tough operationally for his school and the district.

Washington School and Winans Elementary are both open four days a week for all students, while East Side, Sleeping Giant Middle School and Park High School are on an alternating schedule.

School District Superintendent Dr. Don Viegut said the principals in the district would probably say reopening fully right now would make things worse and shut schools down.

Stevenson said reopening is always at the forefront of conversations he has with his staff.

Stevenson had previously suggested students at East Side come back four days a week following the Thanksgiving break, but backed off that plan because of concerns about staffing.

“It was good foresight not to jump back into reopening fully coming out of Thanksgiving break,” Stevenson said, as the school would have had to shut down in the first two days of returning because of staff absences.

Jan. 11 makes sense for third-graders to come back because that gives East Side a week after the kids come back from Christmas break to deal with any issues that may arise, something Stevenson said he learned from Thanksgiving break the school would need.

Viegut said returning to four days per week has gone so well at Winans Elementary and Washington School that the schools made it look easy, but that it’s not easy at all.

It comes down to having enough staff and enough space to social distance, Viegut said.

Although he’d like to bring back all three grades at East Side at the same time, Stevenson said, third grade is in a better position to return more fully than fourth or fifth grade.

Third grade is a good next step for bringing students back four days a week, Stevenson said, because the cohorts will be 14-16 kids — he said he would anticipate about 64 kids total a number he said Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick is comfortable with.

Bringing third-graders back Monday-Thursday would still be sacrificing a preventative strategy in social distancing, Stevenson said.

East Side has hired some long-term substitutes to help with the staffing issues, Stevenson said, but that isn’t a magic wand.

Improvements in testing and the shortening of quarantine times have also helped, Stevenson said, but the school still has problems.

On how the school has been able to stay open so far, Stevenson said, “Honestly it’s been luck sometimes. Just sheer dumb luck.”

Stevenson said Livingston schools are trying to pay attention to the science and what other districts are doing to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The schools are in a better position than they were eight months ago, Stevenson said, and staff are learning many things as they change.

School Board Chairman Ted Madden said he was on board with Stevenson’s recommendation.

People need to understand the district doesn’t have the staffing resources to go back full time, Trustee Dann Babcox said.

As of Tuesday there were 60 students and staff across the district either isolating or quarantining because of COVID-19, according to the district’s COVID online dashboard.

In other business, Viegut told the board the district has been awarded an additional $115,000 in COVID-19 relief funds, which has to be spent by the end of December.

Viegut said the district is ordering new desks for students and new laptops for teachers, whose old laptops will be refurbished so they can be used by students.

In other board meeting news, the trustees voted unanimously as part of the consent items to accept Viegut’s retirement at the end of the school year.

“I guess it’s all over but the crying,” Madden said.

Also, Viegut said the Yellowstone Bend Citizens Council has approached the district about fundraising for a solar array at Winans Elementary that would be similar to the one at Park High, and would coincide with renovating the roof at Winans.