Due to an uptick in active COVID-19 cases in Richland County, Sidney Schools Superintendent Brent Sukut hosted a Facebook live event on Friday, Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. to discuss the county’s situation and also how the new executive orders from President Joe Biden affects the school system.
With 69 active cases, the county currently has the highest number of active cases in Eastern Montana with the exception of Yellowstone County. Sidney schools currently have 12 student cases and two staff members who have tested positive for COVID this year. There is only one student and one staff member who have currently tested positive. The school system also has 31 students and staff members who are in quarantine at this time.
According to Sukut, the school system does not have the authority to mandate quarantine for students or staff but can recommend quarantine. “We know that the health department has recommended some students quarantine and parents choosing to still send their children to school. This is obviously a safety concern.” Sukut said the school system is offering virtual learning for students who need to quarantine.
Sukut also said due to confidentiality laws in House Bill 702, the school system is not allowed to communicate with the health department and the health department is not allowed to communicate to the schools on COVID-19 situations without parent approval. “This places the responsibility for following quarantine requests from the health department solely on parents,” said Sukut. The superintendent asked parents to keep their children at home if they are symptomatic and to abide by any requests from the health department.
Students who are asked to quarantine can check out a device from the school if they do not have a device that is compatible with the Google platform. They will then be able to log into each of their Google classrooms to access any work or assignments given by the teacher.
While the school district is still currently in Phase 5, Sukut said there is the potential for the district to move back to Phase 4, which would require strict social distancing requirements and a return to masks being required. “This is not something we want to do but could be something we are forced to do,” said Sukut. “We want to continue to provide full on-site instruction for all of our students and we will continue to follow that plan as this situation plays out.”
“Nothing currently released by President Biden will have an impact on our schools. The mandates for the private sector and hospitals do not currently apply to the school system. The superintendent also said mask mandates on buses are still in effect.
He was also asked about the possibility of school shutdowns. Schools would not be shut down unless staffing numbers dropped due to quarantines to a level where the school could not feasibly continue operation.
“With your help we can get through this and stay in the phase that we’re at without mask requirements and keeping them optional and keeping our doors open for all of our students. I couldn’t be more proud of our staff for the way they’re working through this and for the way our students are working through this.