It’s a tale of two normals in Great Falls Public Schools (GFPS), with some students back to school, while others learn from home. This week, the realities of the pandemic caught up with both.
GFPS Superintendent Tom Moore said on Tuesday that students and staff are dealing with a major network outage, as more students than ever before rely on technology for remote learning. There’s no word yet on what exactly caused the outage, but it comes as ransomware attacks are shutting down schools in other parts of the country.
“We’re aware of that, and the experts that we’re working with and the specialists are aware of that as well,” Moore said during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Moore said nearly 20% of the district’s approximately 10,000 students have opted for remote learning this semester. In August, that number was at 1,214 students, or approximately 8.5% of the student population, according to meeting minutes from the GFPS Board of Trustees.
District officials said Wednesday remote learning is still possible on many platforms during the outage and they’re calling in backup to get the issue handled sometime this week or next. Remote learning students affected by the outage will not be penalized academically.
Moore said the outage could not have come at a worse time. “It’s very frustrating,” he said.
It comes as the district deals with its first confirmed coronavirus cases. Over the weekend, two students at Great Falls High School tested positive for the coronavirus, and on Tuesday, two more cases were confirmed — one at the Paris Gibson Education Center and another at East Middle School. Teachers say they’re fielding questions — and a lot of uncertainty — from students.
“It’s going to come out in the community; it’s going to come out in our schools,” said Autumn Mattingly Crawford, a teacher at East. “It’s just important that they know that we’re doing our best to support their needs and their safety.”
The students at East and Paris who tested positive over the weekend hadn’t been in the building recently, so only a few rooms were deep-cleaned, said Brian Barringer, East Middle School principal. Great Falls High School was deep-cleaned over the weekend because the two students who tested positive had recently been in the building.
Contact tracing efforts are underway throughout the district, and Erica Harp, GFPS lead school nurse, said she wants parents to know that if the Cascade City-County Health Department calls them, there’s no need to worry. If your child has been in close contact with a COVID-positive student, it doesn’t mean your child has the virus — but they will likely need to get tested.
As the new normal sets in, Barringer said the obstacles are like nothing he’s ever seen. The bright side: he’s thankful to be back with his students in a safe environment.
“Any challenge, bring it on,” he said. “At least we get to be with the kids.”