GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) – About 1,500 students at Great Falls High School will begin distance learning on Tuesday and throughout the rest of the week due to an increase in COVID news cases among students and staff, said Monday Great Falls Public Schools.
More than 35 people have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. Classes will resume a normal schedule on Monday, September 20.
“This will help end quarantine or isolation periods for staff and students and for our sanitation teams to perform the necessary deep cleaning and air exchange throughout the school,” said school officials in a statement.
More than 40 classrooms will need to be disinfected, and that work has started, officials said.
Student sports activities will continue this week as planned, but students and coaches will be required to wear masks when they cannot be socially distanced. Spectators are encouraged to wear masks at all Great Falls High sporting events this week.
Several other schools in the state have switched to distance education due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the first few weeks of class.
Students at Plains High School began distance learning on Monday due to an outbreak of COVID-19 as well as the number of students who are considered close contact with positive cases and cannot be in class, officials said. All high school extracurricular activities will be canceled until next Monday.
Box Elder’s Rocky Boy Public Schools announced on Sunday that they will switch to distance education Monday through September 23 due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the community.
Eureka Public Schools have been informing parents of COVID-19 cases and planning to run classes via Facebook since September 6, when 12 staff tested positive and some were very ill. Eventually, 14 staff members were isolated and others were recommended for quarantine after contact tracing. Sixteen students tested positive and were isolated, the Flathead Beacon reported.
The district was unable to organize classes for primary school students on Monday due to the high number of staff illnesses. There’s no fully remote option, but students are given computers and can take their lessons and stay in touch with their teachers, officials said.
Eureka Schools Superintendent Jim Mepham and High School Principal Joel Graves have tested positive for COVID-19.
“It would be nice to say that we could just close all the schools and protect everyone, but not everyone has a safe place to go when the schools are not open,” Graves said. “We are really trying to stay open for these kids.”
The state is expected to begin its weekly reports on the number of COVID-19 cases reported in public schools on Wednesday.
The Montana Department of Health released what it called a temporary emergency rule on August 31, urging schools to consider parental input when setting masking requirements for schools and to allow students not to wear masks. Many large schools in the state with mask mandates have said that if students refuse to wear a mask, they opt for distance learning.
The Great Falls School District requires masks in grades 6 and under and strongly encourages masks in grades 7 and 12.
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