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Some parents in Great Falls are concerned about access to remote learning

Posted at 5:34 PM, Sep 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-11 21:11:27-04

Following reports of two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Great Falls High School recently, Michael Troyer’s daughter, a student at the school, came to him asked if she could switch to remote learning until she felt that it was safe to return to school. Two other students - one at East Middle School and one at Paris Gibson Education Center - were also confirmed a few days later.

If they had identified four positive cases in the district, it’s likely there are more that haven’t been confirmed yet, Troyer’s daughter told him.

The next morning, Michael called Great Falls High School to find out how he could transition his daughter to remote learning. What he heard was frustrating, to say the least.

“He told me pretty much it was not feasible, that they were not set up for that, which contradicts everything that was sent in the mail to where everybody had the choice of either doing remote or in-person at the beginning,” explained Troyer, detailing his conversation with the school’s Assistant Principal. “When I asked about escalating it, he wanted me to talk to the principal, and when I asked for the superintendent’s number, which he did not give me, he gave me the assistant superintendent’s number.”

Troyer says he was given three options for his daughter: “Put her on the waitlist for remote learning, enroll her in Montana Digital Academy, or do a hybrid of in-person and remote learning where she would come in two or three days a week.

For Montana Digital Academy, Troyer explained, the maximum course load is only two classes, and he says that would put his daughter behind in school credit-wise if they were to go that option. As for the in-person/remote split, he felt that it defeated the purpose because she could still be exposed to the virus on the days when she was in the school building.

Based on Troyer’s account of his conversations, it seems as though he is not the only parent in the district who has encountered this issue.

“I’m almost confident that I’m not the only one dealing with the same thing, especially when he (GFHS Assistant Principal) told me there was a waitlist for going to online,” Troyer said. “That tells me that I’m not the first inquiry, and he says the waitlist keeps growing and growing every day.”

Troyer also told MTN that he was able to speak with Assistant Superintendent Heather Hoyer, but was told similar things about his options and about the growing number of requests from parents in similar situations as Troyer and his family.

In response to an inquiry about this issue, Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore explained that the district cut off the remote learning for high school students in late July to early August because they had to staff and schedule, and they needed to know what they were looking at. He added that they designed the remote learning program around number of students, and that the district can’t assign more than 150 students to a licensed teacher in order to meet state accreditation standards.

He explained that they have heard from a number of people try to enroll their students since then, and that there are currently between 50 and 60 students that they have been unable provide a full schedule for.

Moore confirmed that there is a waiting list to be able to get into the remote learning option, and said that district officials are trying to find a way for that student to work at home until a slot opens up, but that they just do not have the capacity to have people go in and out of those remote programs fluidly.

Governor Steve Bullock on Thursday announced a new set of protocols to help Montana schools know how to handle potential COVID-19 cases. The protocols cover what COVID-19 symptoms schools should check for, when someone needs to be isolated or quarantined, and when they should be allowed to return to school. They also include advice for holding sports and other extracurricular activities, and what information can be released if someone tests positive. Click here to read more.