Hellgate Elementary School Superintendent Doug Reisig was enthusiastic on Thursday when announcing that the school plans to reopen in the fall with a combination of in-classroom and distance learning options.

“The motion that our board approved this morning was that we are going to go back to school full time,” said Reisig. “Obviously, our schedules are going to be staggered because of the bus situation, and that having to sanitize the buses. We’re going to have in-person learning Monday through Friday on the school campus, but we’re also going to have distance learning opportunities in live stream real time for our students whose parents are still a little bit concerned about bringing their kids back into a social setting such as a school would be with this COVID 19 situation.”

Reisig acknowledged that in person learning is vital for a child’s development.

“In my opinion, technology never replaces the human condition of wanting to be with another human being,” he said. “Teachers get into this business because they love kids, they love people. Our kids are wonderful, and we just want to have them back at school.”

Reisig said there are statistics that favor sending students back to school.

“They’ve taken a heck of a hit over COVID 19, through no fault of their own,” he said. “Even if you look at the Missoula statistics on COVID cases children ages zero to 19 have only accounted for nine percent of active cases in Missoula County, and yet schools have been shut down for these kids for the last five and a half months, their summer activities and summer camps have been stopped. We want to try to get them back, but get them back safely.”

Reisig provided specific details being implemented for student safety at Hellgate Elementary.

“We have face masks, we have face shields, we have disinfectants, we have hand sanitizers, we have temperature gauges,” he said. “We have triage classrooms that we’re going to be using. We use tables as opposed to desks and we have table dividers that we have purchased for every child to try to separate them as much as possible from their peers. We’re going to use cohort and cluster groupings of children to keep pockets of kids together. We’ll be moving teachers as much as possible instead of students throughout the school day.”

Reisig said the enrollment at last report was 1,525. In a summer survey, about 15 to 17 percent of parents requested the distance learning option.

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