With the new school year getting underway next Monday in Billings, School District Two officials are refining plans to offer both in-person and online learning for students.
During a Wednesday morning press briefing, Superintendent Greg Upham said more than 2,500 students are signed up for online learning.
"We finished K-5 staffing last night,“ said Upham. "That’s been a big angst of mine, and really it’s turned out to be pretty good. I was pleased with that. I believe we’re upwards of 2,500 remote learners (total) right now."
Upham said at the elementary level, the district has been able to accommodate all staff members who have health issues and are choosing to teach remotely. He acknowledged, however, accomplishing that at the middle school and high school level has been more of a challenge. He said he will know more precise details and numbers by Thursday.
As both teachers and parents scramble to understand the new COVID-19 protocols for schools, Upham saids morale across the district has suffered.
"I think the morale is challenged right now," said Upham. "I think there’s a lot of fear, anxiety, unknown. It’s tough. I really compliment our people. I know they’re trying to do their best, but I’ve seen breakdowns, I’ve seen people cry. They don’t know their teaching assignments yet. That falls on my shoulders trying to get things going, and I feel bad about that."
Asked if the district is prepared to move exclusively to online learning, should COVID cases spike, Upham said his staff is certainly better prepared now than it was this past spring.
“I think we’re in better shape," Upham said. "We’re still a ways away from where I would consider us to be experts in remote learning, but having the stand-alone remote option and having the experts that are in that area, will surely help us if we have to go into remote again.”
Upham encouraged parents to reach out to their schools and visit with administrators about their questions and concerns.
His message for the Billings community: "We're all in this together. We'll take it one day at a time."