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The Baker School District is making plans for how to start school in just over a month, but they will have to be flexible, according to the school’s superintendent.

“Our main goal is to return to face-to-face instruction in the fall,” Superintendent Aaron Skogen said Tuesday. “Any model we have is essentially a hybrid model because coming back this year is going to look different than any other year we’ve come back. Our sanitation requirements, how we move students in and out of the building and such... we will have to have ground rules in place for the staff and students to make sure we are following the safety protocols.”

“Our main focus, our main goal is to be back in the building with students and staff … and moving forward in that direction,” Skogen explained.

“Right now, we have a lot of questions we have to answer. There are a lot of scenarios we’ll have to play out. We have been meeting with the administration for several weeks now and we have received guidance from the state Office of Public Instruction and the governor’s office.

“This week, we are meeting with our teachers and starting that dialogue. We have been in constant contact with the local health officials and playing out those scenarios and getting guidance from them,” he said.

The school has already made an announcement on its Facebook page, explaining the situation and plans for the students and families. “The guidance being issued does not contain mandates and/or obligatory directives for schools but rather serves as recommendations for local School Boards to consider as we finalize plans for the fall. Our administration is forming preliminary plans that will address a wide-range of scenarios and issues that will need to be addressed prior to reopening. Our goal is to reopen school as normal as possible with an increased awareness and diligence placed on cleaning and effective sanitation practices.”

The first day of school is currently set for Aug. 20.

The enrollment is stable with no growth spurt adding to the district’s problems, the superintendent added.

“Hopefully, our goal will be back to face-to-face instruction.... meeting our students’ educational needs while not adding to the stress in the community,” he said.

Fall sports

The fall athletic programs will follow the COVID guidelines established by the Montana High School Association, the superintendent added.

As the start of the fall seasons near, the superintendent said that he expects the guidelines to be updated to meet the current conditions in the state. “I would expect an announcement in the coming weeks,” he said.

Currently, the MHSA has stated that “while recognizing that county-by-county reopening may lead to inequities, the MHSA advocates for returning students to school-based athletics and activities and allowing youth sports organizations to operate in any and all situations where it can be done safely.

“Limited testing availability, lack of resources for contact tracing, and expanding knowledge of COVID-19 transmission could all result in significant changes to this guidance.”

“The MHSA will disseminate more information as it becomes available. Administrators and coaches must emphasize the need for all coaches and participants who have signs or symptoms of illness to stay home when ill to decrease risk of viral transmission.”

“Vulnerable individuals” are defined by DPHHS as people age 65 years and older and others with serious underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and those whose immune systems are compromised such as by chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions requiring such therapy.

“Current pre-season conditioning and acclimatization models assume that athletes have deconditioned during the stay at home orders.

“The current pandemic may result in students being deconditioned for several months. The intensity and duration of training should be moderated upon return.

“The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is currently involved with several organizations in developing consensus guidelines for the resumption of workouts and practices. These guidelines will be reviewed by the MHSA after they are finalized.

“Due to the near certainty of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months, schools and youth sports organizations must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks while in-season.

“Development of policies is recommended regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to post-season events/competitions,” according to the organization.

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