FINALS WEEK: Livingston schools set to finish up first full semester amid pandemic

Sam Klomhaus - Enterprise Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021
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Spanish teacher Keaton Ramm, left, listens to Kinley Hoeme give her oral exam for Spanish on Monday morning. Enterprise photo by Elias Baer

Livingston Schools are finishing up their first full semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, which presents a particular challenge for Park High School: finals week.

Park High co-Principal Lynne Scalia said she was previously feeling really good about having final exams.

The school has been fortunate this semester in that it hasn’t had to go completely remote like schools did in March, Scalia said. Livingston schools finished the spring 2020 semester off-site, something administrators have repeatedly emphasized they’re trying to avoid.

“We thought for sure we’d have had to do that (go fully remote) by this point,” Scalia said.

After students returned from their winter break last week, Park High saw an uptick in students using the rec-plex to catch up on schoolwork during their off-site days, Scalia said.

However, positive cases discovered over the weekend resulting in no bus service on Monday and the quarantining of the boys basketball team are pushing the school to be flexible during finals week, Scalia said, although there is some wiggle room.

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, a full accounting of cases was not known Monday morning.

A Sunday letter from Scalia and co-Principal Lori Dust read, “Over the weekend we were notified of two separate COVID-positive cases which have affected two of our winter sports teams.

One of the positive cases occurred in a person from a different school community and the second case involved an ancillary PHS staff member. As a result, several members of two different winter sports teams have been quarantined.”

The state of Montana’s COVID-19 case map reported two new COVID-19 cases in Park County Monday, 11 new cases Sunday and two new cases Saturday, none of which were reported to be school-age.

Park High held an emergency staff meeting to prepare for the week, Scalia said, and Park High’s teachers have the situation covered. It just involves a lot of communication.

Scalia said Park High is prepared to extend the semester if necessary. The letter from Scalia and Dust said students who are out of quarantine by Wednesday and Thursday should plan on utilizing build-in make-up periods on those days for their finals.

Some teachers have created online exams, which takes more work than preparing a physical exam, Scalia said.

Others had their classes do final projects instead of tests, she said, which presents other problems such as having to present the project to the class.

The teachers are finding new ways to be flexible, Scalia said, and working with kids to make sure they’re not overloaded.

“Kids and families are taking it pretty seriously from what we can tell,” Scalia said.

Some students who are more ready for a college setting are going to be just fine, Scalia said, but she’s concerned about the freshmen who aren’t used to the finals process an exam covering everything they’ve learned this semester — as well as students who have struggled with the a/b model, especially the days in which they’re off-site.

Scalia said one of her main concerns moving forward is getting the student who are struggling more time on-site at school.

Scalia encouraged any families and students who are struggling to reach out so the district can work with them.

“Sometimes we don’t know when people are struggling,” she said.

When the second semester starts next week, Scalia said, she expects more of the same, which is to say flexibility on the part of staff to keep all the gears turning.

Scalia said she’s hoping teachers can be vaccinated as soon as possible. She said she was very discouraged by Gov. Gianforte’s announcement last week that teachers will be moved back in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, from group 1B to group 1C, although she doesn’t want to deprive anyone who got moved up of the vaccine.

Teachers getting the vaccine is what will allow the district to open its schools fully, Scalia said.

“I think as long as we’re in this mode it’s very challenging (for staff),” she said.