The East Helena School District has shifted Radley Elementary School back to all-remote learning, because multiple teachers are out due to concerns over COVID-19.
The district made the announcement Sunday.
Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said, over the weekend, they learned two teachers had tested positive for COVID. Several others are being tested or reported experiencing possible symptoms. Whitmoyer said that left them too short-staffed to hold in-person classes at Radley.
“When we were hitting five, six, seven staff members that were going to be out, there was just no way that we were going to be able to operate – and more importantly, no way to be protective of human health within the building,” he said.
All other East Helena schools will continue operating as they have been, for now.
Whitmoyer said Radley will continue remote learning until at least Nov. 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving. He said the district will be in regular contact with Lewis and Clark Public Health as they determine when they can return to in-person classes.
“This will be a great opportunity to stop the spread,” said Whitmoyer. “If we take the two weeks off, let it run its course, then we should be able to restart again.”
Whitmoyer said they still haven’t seen significant virus transmission within schools. He said East Helena families have done a good job of keeping kids home when they’re sick.
“When they do that, they almost stop the spread of the disease right there, and with that kind of effort, we’re able to continue to operate,” he said. “With the staff becoming ill, we felt we had the same obligation that parents have.”
This announcement comes a week after Helena Public Schools leaders told MTN they were facing significant staff shortages and the possibility of “intermittent school closures,” because of teachers and other employees being quarantined or caring for people in quarantine.
Whitmoyer said East Helena Public Schools currently has only about eight or nine available substitutes – just a third of their normal pool. The district hired five additional full-time teachers “on special assignment,” who assist with distance learning but can also fill in for in-person classes if needed. Still, Whitmoyer encouraged anyone who is interested in working as a substitute to contact the district.
As of last Thursday – before the latest cases connected to Radley – the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported 12 COVID-19 cases associated with East Helena Public Schools. As of Monday evening, Helena Public Schools had reported a total of 145 cases – including 73 in the last two weeks.