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Helena high schools to return to online learning due to staff shortages

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Posted at 3:30 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 17:30:10-05

HELENA — Helena Public Schools leaders say ongoing staff shortages have forced them to return Helena and Capital high schools to fully remote learning, beginning on Monday, Nov. 23.

The two high schools will remain open as planned Friday, then close to in-person instruction for the next two weeks – through Dec. 4. District leaders will make a decision by Dec. 3 on whether in-person classes can resume Monday, Dec. 7.

Superintendent Tyler Ream told MTN News that the decision is not because of COVID-19 cases within the schools, but only because of the growing number of district employees who can’t work in person.

“There’s no outbreak; there’s no virus transmission in the schools,” Ream said. “It’s about our ability to keep all of our schools open.”

Ream said the district no longer had the option to staff all of its schools at an appropriate level, and that shifting the high schools to online instruction allows them to use high school support staff and substitutes to keep K-8 schools open. District leaders believe that is the best way to minimize the impact on families.

Ream told MTN News close to 20% of the district’s employees are not currently able to work in school buildings – some because they are in quarantine, but others because they have potential COVID-19 symptoms, are taking care of someone in quarantine or don’t have access to their regular childcare option. In many cases, those employees are still able to handle remote classes.

The decision will not change the current Phase I operations at any other district schools. In a letter to families, Ream said an improvement in the local COVID-19 situation will be key to returning Helena and Capital high schools to in-person learning.

“In order to do so, we must be able to appropriately staff our schools,” he said. “With cases continuing to rise to record levels, we will need the full support of our Helena community to flatten this two-month-long curve and restore relative health and safety across our community.”

Ream said the district intends to continue some on-campus services at the high schools, including food services. Students and families at Helena and Capital should receive additional information on plans for the next two weeks in the coming days.