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Students seeking remote learning in Billings on the rise, superintendent says

Aug. 14 deadline approaching for parents
Posted at 11:13 AM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 13:13:33-04

About 2,000 Billings students have signed up for remote classes as of Wednesday, and Billings School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham said the district should be able to accommodate a majority of teachers' remote position requests.

"Now that we’re at 2,000 (remote students), I’m much more relaxed, if you will, that we can accommodate a majority of our staff that have requested remote. That being said, I won’t know that until early next week. We are prepared, after Friday night, to see if the licensure matches up with the students who have requested remote," Upham said during a media Zoom call.

Last week, the district recorded 900 students signed up for online classes. That's a far cry from the 5,000 total expected in July based on a parent survey.

Now, an average of about 140 students per grade level in kindergarten through 12th grade are enrolled in distance learning, Upham said. The district provided the following totals at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Billings students enrolled in online learning:

  • Pre-kindergarten - 10
  • Kindergarten - 5th grade - 817
  • 6th - 8th grade - 546
  • 9th - 12th grade - 664
  • Remote enrolled students - 2,035
  • Total forms completed - 12,275

Upham said he expects the number of distance learners to hover around 2,500 heading into the school year, barring a significant spike in local COVID-19 cases.

"If we would see increases again, I would assume that we may see more requests. If the virus settles back down, I think we’re probably about where we’re going to be," Upham said.

The deadline is Friday, Aug. 14 for parents to choose either distance or in-person school for the entire year for their student. Upham said the district is trying to allow flexibility for schedule changes, but the flexibility comes down to class size and enrollment numbers attached to state accreditation.

"If there are 30 social studies students in a classroom and that’s accreditation standards, we can’t put 31 in. We will do our best to staff these class sizes so that we have some flexibility. That being said, parents need to know that they need to get this completed as soon as possible. We will do our best, but at some point in time, we will have to say yes or no," Upham said.

The online documents required for parents to inform the schools of their decision can be found on the district's website by clicking here.

The initial soft deadline for parents to choose was Aug. 7. Many parents were unable to access the documents via the school's online grading platform because of lost or forgotten passwords, Upham said.

“There were a lot of logistical issues that created a bottleneck. I elected then to do a soft deadline, if you will, and extended it to Aug. 14," Upham said.

Upham is comfortable with the amount of devices available to loan out to distance learners for the year. Staff have ordered more devices that are en route to Billings.

"That doesn’t mean that we may need extra ones, but I’m not hearing anything from our people right now that we are concerned about any of our orders. We ordered a lot a long, long time ago. That doesn’t mean to say someone couldn’t call at 11 a.m. and say your order is on back order. Saying it out loud scares me, but I think we’re okay for right now," Upham said.

A few weeks ago, when it was thought that 30 percent of the 17,500 Billings public school students would learn remotely, the plan was to have as little disruption to the in-person school day as possible. With fewer distance learners, Upham said principals have been asked to revisit block scheduling, lessening the amount of daily class periods for middle and high schools.

Upham said middle schools may have three class periods a day, compared to the usual six periods. High schools will have two class periods a day when the usual is six. The block schedules would allow for easier cohorting among students and staff, Upham said.

“We still have to work within the Office of Public Instruction accreditation requirements, aggregate hours. So, we’re still working through some of those details. It allows us to allow all students to school without altering start and stop times, busing, those types of situations. The district decides that those are variables that can be concerning and you don’t want anything confusing for families," Upham said.

To learn more about Billings public schools reopening plan and see a detailed FAQ page, visit the district's web site by clicking here.

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