UPDATE: Townsend School Board approves changes to district mask policy, announces DPHHS grant

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Posted at 2:59 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 21:54:07-04

(UPDATE 8:00 P.M.) The Townsend School Board unanimously approved revisions to the district’s mask policy during an emergency meeting Thursday night. District leaders also announced they received a multi-thousand dollar grant from the state health department to help with COVID-19 mitigation.

The board approved revisions to policy 1905, which deals with masking options. The approved revisions say that in a class where a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, the rest of the class must wear a mask for 10 days after their are notified as being a close contact by the county health department, or for a time determined by the county health department. If a student does not wish to wear a mask, they can opt to remote learn for that time period.

Townsend Public Superintendent Susie Hedalen said the policy revisions are meant to help keep students and teachers in the classroom safely, even if they are close contacts to COVID-19. She said the district worked with the Broadwater County Health Department to craft the policy revisions.

During the week of Sept. 20, Townsend Public Schools recorded more than 25% of the student body absent related to COVID-19.

“The administration has done a great job in handling this situation,” Townsend School Board member Shaun Scott said of the approved revisions to policy 1905. “That’s really appreciated.”

Scott called the revised policy a practical mitigation strategy that “speaks to keeping students, faculty, staff and administration safe.”

During the meeting, Hedalen also announced the district received a $54-thousand grant from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human services to implement a rapid COVID-19 testing program. The optional program will give symptomatic teachers the ability to get a rapid COIVD-19 test through the school. Eventually, Hedalen said that program could expand to students, if they choose.

“We can keep teachers here,” Hedalen said. “We can test them and make sure it’s not COVID, and keep our classes going.”

Money from the grant will also help fund a school health coordinator position to implement and coordinate the rapid testing program, and work with the county health department.

(FIRST REPORT)The Townsend School Board has an emergency meeting scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 30 at 6:00 p.m. According to district officials, the board will discuss district COVID-19 protocols.

Townsend Public Schools Superintendent Susie Hedalen said the board will consider changes to policy 1905, which covers masking options. Specifically, she said they will consider changing the policy to say if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, their class will be asked to wear masks for a temporary period of time or go to remote learning.

Additionally, Hedalen said the board will consider adding COVID-19 specific symptoms listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to policy 1905.

Hedalen said the point is “to try and mitigate the spread” of COVID-19.

During the week of Sept. 20, Townsend Public Schools listed 162 students absent related to COVID-19, which is more than 25% of the district’s student body.

In a Sept. 28 letter, Hedalen said the district is dealing with “many absences related to COVID-19” and is short-staffed in grades K-8.

“If we continue to lose staff, we could have to close school for a short period,” Hedalen wrote. “We have worked with all students and staff to ensure they are prepared to go remote if necessary.”

In order to help keep students and teachers in school, Hedalen said the district applied for a grant through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to offer rapid COVID-19 testing for staff, and possibly students in the future.

“(It’s a) total voluntary program,” Hedalen said. “Teachers and students and teachers can opt-in or out.”

During Thursday's emergency meeting, the Townsend School Board may also consider hiring a health coordinator for the district to do testing and coordinate with the county health department, Hedalen said.

“We are just trying to find solutions that will keep students in school and learning going, but also respect people’s thoughts and beliefs,” Hedalen said.

The emergency school board meeting is scheduled for 6 pm in the community room.