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Helena Public Schools preparing in case coronavirus arrives

Posted at 6:40 PM, Mar 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-11 20:40:02-04

Helena School District leaders say they have been hearing a lot of questions about the new coronavirus.

“Certainly, it’s been on our families’ minds; it’s been on, I think everybody’s minds – teachers, staff, myself,” said Superintendent Tyler Ream.

Ream said the district has been thinking about possible responses to the outbreak for several weeks. He said leaders have been in touch with Lewis and Clark Public Health multiple times a day about the latest information on the virus. They have also been planning the best ways to share that information.

“Trying to run the fine line for our parents and community of giving them factual information when they need it, but not giving them so much information that they feel overloaded,” Ream said.

The district sent out a letter Tuesday on some of the steps they have already taken. In one example, they purchased a second electrostatic disinfectant sprayer they can use for thoroughly cleaning buildings or buses. The sprayer puts out a mist that clings to surfaces.

“It not only coats the high-touch surfaces, but will coat underneath the surfaces and the crevices,” said Ream.

The district bought its first sprayer about a year ago and has used it several times when individual schools have reported unusually high rates of other illnesses.

“We ordered a second unit a couple of weeks ago in relation to coronavirus concerns, along with a lot of the solution, just so that we’re well-stocked should a local case arise,” said Ream.

District leaders are also rethinking travel. A group of gifted and talented students from the district’s PEAK program was set to travel out of state for an event sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but their presentation was canceled due to coronavirus. Ream said they are taking a closer look at a number of out-of-town activities.

“Certainly if it’s something that involves traveling through a major city, traveling via airplane – those are all factors that we’re considering in concert with parents, as we think through what we’ve got planned, not just for the month of March, but April, May and beyond,” he said.

With Spring Break set to begin on March 30, leaders are also reminding families that anyone who goes to a country with a federal travel advisory over coronavirus may be required to go through a 14-day quarantine when they return.

“We didn’t want families to be surprised should their travel plans include traveling to a place like South Korea, Italy, et cetera,” said Ream.

Ream said, while there have been no cases reported in the state yet, Helena Public Schools leaders have had discussions about ways they could introduce remote learning, if a school needed to be temporarily closed.

“It’s not the same by any means as a classroom environment, but is there a way to provide a digital classroom environment?” he said. “We certainly have the tools to be able to do that, so putting together trainings and making sure that our teachers are ready should that need arise is something we want to be able to do very quickly here.”

Ream said one of their biggest goals has been to emphasize basic advice for limiting the spread of the virus, like washing hands regularly and staying home if you’re sick. Those are steps they promote to students and families every year.

“That’s just good clean protocol associated with kind of cold and flu season in general, so just trying to reiterate that,” he said.

Other local school districts say they’re also closely monitoring coronavirus. East Helena Public Schools Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer said his staff has put more resources into cleaning, and let some other tasks wait.