Billings public school students went back to in-person classes Monday for the first time in five months, and Billings School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham is pleased with how the day shook out.
"I think our staff have just done a phenomenal job. I applaud their courage and their efforts. We need to build on it. Obviously this isn’t a one-day situation. Our efforts were to get opened and to be as safe as possible. We will continue to do that, but for the first day I’m very pleased," Upham said.
The district required all students to be masked in the classroom this year, and teachers saw no issues with getting students to wear them, Upham said.
"The students were outstanding all the way from our high school students down to our elementary-aged students. Our staff said they were very, very pleased with the masking," Upham said.
Physical distancing during recess and lunch needs improvement, Upham said. The younger students just tend to forget, while the older ones may just disregard the rule.
"We know that small children touch and hug, they’re loved. That’s what they’re supposed to do. We knew that this summer with some of our summer programs. The older (students), they know how to physically distance, some of them choose not to, so we’ll just have to continue to work with it," Upham said.
Upham visited West High School, Lewis and Clark Middle School and several elementary schools as their staff welcomed students back. He heard both excitement and nervousness from teachers working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Across the board for the most part, and I talked with a lot of teachers today, excited to be back, trepidation, feeling that we’re just one day at a time, one step at a time. Super excited to scared. But I think overly they were pleased with the way the day has gone. I’m happy about that," Upham said.
For the 2,500 Billings students enrolled in remote learning, their classes start on in a week on Aug. 31. A virtual meet and greet between students and their teachers is scheduled for Friday Aug. 28.
There's still much time in the school year left to go. Upham said it's up to the community to help keep schools open.
"We have to have help from our community. I still see people not wearing masks in stores and things like that. I think we need to work together. We want the schools to stay open. Our students want to go to school. Our teachers want to go to teach. We just have to work together in this," Upham said.