GREAT FALLS — As coronavirus cases in Hill County continue to spike, Havre Public Schools will transition to remote learning for a period of two weeks. It's the latest rural school district in Montana to temporarily shift online amid rising coronavirus cases.
During an emergency meeting Tuesday evening, school board members voted 5-3 in favor of moving to remote learning until October 28. The decision comes as more than 180 people in the district are either quarantined or have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Jeri Erickson, Havre Public Schools nurse, said the majority (70%) of currently quarantined students were exposed to positive cases at school.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the superintendent said the district had 13 active coronavirus cases among students, out of 1,710 students in the district. There are also two active cases among staff members. Hill County’s positivity rate, last reported at 9%, has increased more rapidly than some of Montana’s more populated counties, and as of Tuesday's meeting, there were 179 active coronavirus cases in Hill County.
“There’s a lot of people that aren’t following the rules, that aren’t masking,” said Theresa Miller, a school board member.
Remote learning will include a hybrid of online learning and instruction packets, according to Craig Mueller, Havre Public Schools interim superintendent. Students and parents will be required to take virtual attendance each school day. For parents like Michele Young, who takes care of three students — a first grader, a high school junior and a high school senior — the switch to remote learning will mean her older kids will babysit during the day, while she works.
“It’s a struggle for a lot of us parents, because we also have to juggle work,” she said.
The board also voted Tuesday, 7-1, to continue extracurricular activities, with extra precautions in place. Some parents have expressed concern with that decision. In an email to MTN News, Mueller said no students involved in extracurricular groups have tested positive yet. He said a special districtwide team meets with the health department once a week to discuss how to have athletic events safely.
“Our extracurricular groups have done an amazing job with following the Hill County Health Department Guidelines and complying with CDC directives,” he said.
Celina Cline is the parent of an eighth grader in Havre schools. Although her daughter would rather be in school, she said it’s a sacrifice they’re willing to make to keep the community safe.
“This is what we’ve got to do,” she said. “I think it’s just a small price.”