GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — About 1,500 students at Great Falls High School will begin remote learning Tuesday and through the rest of the week because of an increase in COVID-19 cases among students and staff, Great Falls Public Schools said Monday.
More than 35 people have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. Classes will return to a normal schedule on Monday, Sept. 20.
“This will allow for the quarantine or isolation times of staff and students to lapse and for our sanitation teams to do the necessary deep cleaning and air exchange of the entire school,” school officials said in a statement.
Over 40 classrooms will need to be disinfected, and that work has begun, officials said.
Student athletic activities will continue this week as scheduled, but students and coaches will be required to wear masks when they are unable to be socially distanced. Spectators are being asked to wear masks at all Great Falls High athletic events this week.
Several other schools around the state have moved to remote instruction due to COVID-19 outbreaks during the first weeks of classes.
About 150 students at Plains High School began remote learning on Monday because of a COVID-19 outbreak as well as the number of students who are considered close contacts to positive cases and can't be in class, officials said. All high school extracurricular activities will be canceled until next Monday.
Also in northwestern Montana, Noxon Public Schools moved to remote teaching starting Tuesday through Sept. 24, returning to in-person learning on Sept. 27 due to the number of COVID-19 cases among students. The school also canceled all extracurricular activities, including practices, during the closure, which affects about 170 students.
Eureka Public Schools has been using Facebook to update parents about COVID-19 cases and about whether it will be able to hold in-person classes since Sept. 6, when it said 12 staff members had tested positive and some were very sick. Eventually, 14 staff were isolated and others were recommended to be quarantined after contact tracing. Sixteen students tested positive and were isolated, the Flathead Beacon reported.
Due to staff illnesses, the district is unable to hold classes for elementary students from Monday through at least Wednesday, Superintendent Jim Mepham posted on social media. The school does not have a fully remote option for its estimated 450 elementary students, but students are given computers and are able to keep up with coursework and keep in touch with their teachers, officials said.
The junior high and high schools held classes on Tuesday.
“This decision allows every parent and staff member to make their own decision to attend school," Mepham wrote Monday. “This parental right is the same right that you have for: mask wearing (except on buses), vaccinations, and COVID testing. We will shut down if we can not effectively run school. At this time we believe that we can.”
In north-central Montana, Rocky Boy Public Schools in Box Elder announced Sunday that it would be moving to remote instruction from Monday through Sept. 23 due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community.
The state is expected to start weekly reports on Wednesday listing the number of COVID-19 cases reported in public schools.
Montana's health department issued what it called a temporary emergency rule on Aug. 31 urging schools to consider parental input when setting masking requirements for schools and to have ways for students to opt out of wearing masks. Many of the state's larger schools with mask mandates said if students opt out of wearing a mask, they're opting in to remote classes.
The Great Falls school district is requiring masks in grades 6 and lower and strongly encouraging masks in grades 7-12.
Children 11 and younger are not yet eligible for the vaccine.