GREAT FALLS — As the new school year quickly approaches, families have some potentially difficult choices to make about what education looks like this upcoming semester. MTN is looking at different perspectives and options for parents and students as part of an initiative called Safely Back to School.
Foothills Community Christian School offers a private, tuition-based education for around 150 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students. Based on what is known right now, Foothills plans to start their academic year on August 31st as previously scheduled, with face to face instruction in the classroom.
“We are interested in doing things that are faith directed as opposed to fear or as opposed to being presumptive or arrogant and ignoring the reality we face. That’s a small bandwidth,” explained Head of School David Culpepper.
At this time, masks will be optional for students and staff. Culpepper said he has spoken with the governor’s office and at this time the mask mandate does not relate to school. He said the governor’s office told him a decision on schools requiring students to wear masks is still being discussed.
Children can use playground equipment with parental permission. There will also be more sanitation and cleaning. “We are going to increase the washing of the hands, disinfecting, we’ll be using alcohol to disinfect two three times throughout the day and the end of the day,” Culpepper explained.
Culpepper said social distancing won’t be a problem: “The classrooms we have, the room sizes are fairly large and we have small classes. Our average class size is about 10.” When students can’t space out, laminated boards will be available to put up in between desks and in the computer lab.
Culpepper said there is a lot more to education than what can be gained from a book or virtual meeting and they came to their decisions based on what would be best for the children.
“There are developmental needs a child has that really begins to awaken around age nine or 10 right before puberty where that social interaction is huge, and they learn skill sets that they will take into adulthood. And you can’t get that virtually,” Culpepper explained.
The faith-based school board solicited input from the CDC, City-County Health Department, and others in mapping out their approach and plan for the new school year.
“It (coronavirus) is happening. That is a reality, but you have to step back and say what are the other realities that we confront. We do confront other diseases that kill. We do confront other diseases that debilitate. We do confront other things that keep the teacher and or the students away from the classroom. So how does this one fit into that big scenario and how does this fit in with what we’ve already done and how does this fit in with what we feel like God wants us to do to protect our people at the same time educate?”
Foothills also supports families who choose to homeschool their children. Lesson plans and a curriculum from Foothills is available to those who are interested in homeschooling; click here to visit their website.
If Governor Steve Bullock directs the state back to phase one, Foothills would return to remote learning as they did this past spring.