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GFPS staff react: moving to remote learning for two weeks

Posted at 1:00 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 14:18:07-05

Great Falls Public Schools announced on Tuesday that it will transition to remote learning for all students on Monday, November 16, and remain in that mode until at least Monday, November 30. The decision comes as the number of COVID cases continues to spike both within schools and across the community. As of Thursday, Cascade County has 1,830 active cases, and 45 people have died.

GFPS has been posting regular updates on COVID cases to its website; as of Wednesday, November 11, the total number of active cases confirmed by GFPS nursing staff, in conjunction with the City-County Health Department, was 104.

“It’s frustrating because the best part of teaching is interacting with students,” said Great Falls High School biology teacher Brian Sullivan. “I love discussion, I love weird questions and being able to talk with students about that, and that’s what we’re going to miss, and that’s really disappointing because, to me, that’s the best part of learning, the best part of education is talking and discussing and asking questions and answering questions, and we really lose a lot of that when we go remote.”

Brian’s sentiment is a common one among teachers in the Great Falls Public Schools district as they get set to transition to all-remote learning for the first time this semester. The plan, as it was introduced back in August, was to take transitioning to remote learning on a school by school basis. It was only after the number of positive COVID-19 cases and quarantined students and teachers continued to rise (111 active cases as of November 12) that the district’s task force decided it was time to take action.

While many teachers were disappointed by the decision, most were not surprised, and their disappointment didn’t mean they thought that it was the wrong decision.

“Not really surprised, to be honest. I had a feeling it was going to happen,” said Sullivan. “So, we’ve been talking with kids pretty much throughout the quarter, that this was probably going to happen at some point, and just talking with them about how they can be ready for it and making sure that they’re successful while at home.”

“My first reactions were kind of like, good, I’m glad that we’re going to do something to try to help the community stop the community spread,” said Jeff Rieger, an Extended Curriculum Services teacher at Riverview Elementary School. “I was nervous, of course, to make sure that it works well for the kids. I know that there were some experiences last year that weren’t great for them when they were out for so long, but I think this year we’re more prepared, we’re ready to go.”

The focus now turns to the preparation that goes into getting their students (and themselves) ready to turn their desks and chairs into Zoom screens and virtual presentations.

Rieger has been using Google Classroom in his ECS program for three years now, so it’s safe to say that he has a leg up. Even so, the district has been telling its teachers to remain prepared for this possibility since the Back to School plan was approved in August.

“I have been busy packing up boxes of materials, I think that some subjects lend themselves very easily to going home,” explained Cortni Harant, the Art Department Chair at Great Falls High School. “If you’re working sketchbooks or drawing, most students have those resources, but I’m also teaching printmaking and sculpture, and so, literally, like checking out tools and their PPE, including hand-coverings and stuff so that they have those resources so that they'll be able to continue”

Harant also added that, while the district has maintained that the plan is for schools to return to in-person learning on November 30, she’s hedging her bets and sending enough materials home with her students to last them longer than two weeks.

While most of the district was notified of the decision to go remote on Tuesday afternoon, teachers in the district found out around the same time. Despite that, many had had some thoughts about this being a possibility and were trying to be as prepared as they could be.

“We heard maybe the day before, we weren’t sure,” explained Riverview third-grade teacher Meghan Brenna. “It was kind of a surprise, but we were ready for it. We started doing remote learning in the classroom, so that was the nice thing, we started doing the Chromebook training and doing SeeSaw and stuff like that before...I mean it was the second day of school is when I started doing it.”

The City-County Health Department in Great Falls said on Thursday morning: "The most recent data for positivity rate (10/22/20-11/4/20) has now been released and, unfortunately, the positivity rate has increased from 25.5% to 32.1%. That means that, at this time in Cascade County, *nearly* 1 in 3 people who gets tested for COVID-19 tests positive. Yesterday we had 7 new cases reported by State, bringing us to 1830 active cases (2884 total). Here are the details: one male, age 10-19; two men, ages 20-29; three women, ages 50-59; and one woman, age 80-89. We thank our community members for their efforts in slowing the spread of COVID-19, especially while case investigations & contact tracing are still behind."

Governor Steve Bullock has scheduled a news conference for 1:30 p.m. today to provide an update on COVID-19. An email from his office states that he will address the "concerning increase in cases statewide and nationwide, and will recommend Montanans to stay home as much as possible. Governor Bullock will also discuss how the state’s team addressing coronavirus will support the incoming administration," referring to governor-elect Greg Gianforte.

Age, gender, county of all new cases

CONTEXT: Not every person who tests positive actually becomes ill or exhibits symptoms. Many do not; of those who do become sick, some experience mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Others, however, do require hospitalization, as noted in the daily update on the number of people hospitalized. However, every person who tests positive for COVID-19 has the potential to spread the virus to other people, including family members and friends, which is why public health officials continue to encourage everyone to wear a mask and maintain at least the recommended six feet of "social distance" when in public. The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) released data in late August which emphasizes that people with contributing or chronic medical conditions are at much greater risk of dying from COVID-19. Click here to read more.