BILLINGS — Students in Billings School District 2 will continue learning online for the remainder of the school year, but school district officials are planning for socially-distanced high school graduation at an online school board meeting Monday night.
School board trustees voted unanimously to continue online-only teaching for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
Billings School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham detailed the challenges he saw in reopening school ahead of the trustees' vote.
If parents choose to keep kids home, Upham said it would be difficult for teachers to teach students in the physical classroom at the same time as the virtual one.
Social distancing can't be effectively practiced across all Billings schools, and the next step of masking kids and staff would be a tough task, Upham said. Temperature-check equipment that would be needed at the front doors of schools would be difficult to track down and implement in a short time.
Upham said the district doesn't track how many staff members are considered high risk if they were to become infected by COVID-19. And a large portion of the substitute teacher pool is over 65 years old, Upham said.
If the schools were to cut enrollment or implement half days, more challenges open up, Upham said. In conversations Upham has had with transportation representatives, they found half-day busing to be impossible. The issue of sanitizing classrooms and buses between half-day students would also be a tall order.
Food service across the Billings schools would have to be retooled and new sanitation procedures put in place. Upham said his conversations with the food service provider have found it would be tough to switch from the current meal-delivery system back to serving in school.
Graduation for the Billings public high schools is still on for mid to early May, although the ceremony will take a much different shape than usual. Upham created the plan with the help of high school principals and other district officials.
As of Monday, the plan includes graduating 10 students at a time in the theaters of the three individual Billings high schools, Upham said. The students would individually walk across the decorated stage and pick up their diploma from a table. The process could take several days, Upham said.
No parents would be allowed to attend the ceremony, according to the preliminary plan shared by Upham at the meeting.
A video containing principals and valedictorian speeches would be played for each group of 10 graduates that entered the theater, Upham said.
Upham said the preliminary plan for graduation has room for flexibility and could be changed if Montana Gov. Steve Bullock shifted his plan to reopen the state into phase two. The state is currently in phase 1, which only allows groups of 10 or less to gather. This limitation influenced Upham's graduation plan.
Bullock has given no timeline for when the state could move into the next phase.
The state moving into phase two could allow for more students to graduate at a time with the possibility of family members being able to attend.
According to Upham, the graduation plan has been approved by Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton.