The Choteau Public Schools fall count date tallied 343 students in kindergarten through 12th grade compared to 253 last year at the same time, Superintendent Chuck Gameon told the school board at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Enrollment taken on Oct. 6 showed 185 K-6 students, compared to 183 last year; 51 junior high students, compared to 55 last year; and 107 high school students, compared to 115 last year.

Gameon and secondary Principal Wendi Hammond updated the board on how the K-12 school system is responding to the new demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the help of the district’s technology coordinator Robb Wearley and Gameon, Hammond said she has nearly reached her goal of having a school-assigned laptop or Chromebook for every student who needs them in grades seven through 12. Six to 10 upperclassmen have their own laptops, but most of the other students need a school computer that travels from class to class with them and from home to school. “This way, we are more agile in preparing our kids for the future and we are helping students use technology to get over the COVID-19 hump as best we can,” she said. “We need to be able to do school at home as needed.”

Hammond complimented the Choteau students as well, saying they are following the routines, washing down classrooms and wearing their masks. “We have really not had anyone who is being defiant,” she said, adding that the office provides disposable masks when kids forget to bring their own.

As of Oct. 14, the school system had one elementary student diagnosed with COVID, triggering a 14-day day quarantine of the teacher and the whole class. That class will be able to return to school on Oct. 19. The students continued with their education via distance learning.

Gameon said as cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, he remains hopeful that school will be able to stay in session in person. If climbing numbers require a change, he said, he hopes the district can go back to the Cohort A and B system, where half the students are in school half the week and doing distance learning the other half as the cohorts rotate.

Also, he said, testing data shows that kindergarteners and first graders are most likely to lose concepts and fall back in learning so he would like to look at ways to keep these youngest children in-person learning in the schools.

Looking at the current situation, he said, the K-12 system will hold another day of distance learning as practice using this system on Oct. 28. Students will do online classes from 8:30 a.m. to noon and the staff will work from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on looking at what is working well and what still needs to be improved.

Gameon said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the summer school nutrition program through July 30. This means that all children, ages 0 to 18, can get free school breakfast and lunch for the rest of the school year and the federal government will cover the cost.

The superintendent said Choteau’s nutrition program, led by head cook Cathy Campbell, is serving around 55-60 breakfasts a day and 200 lunches per day.

Gameon and Hammond said the district’s first parent-teacher conferences were held last week. Rather than inviting all parents to attend conferences, the staff scheduled conferences with specific parents and set either in-person or online appointments or telephone conferences.

Hammond said COVID-19 relief funding is paying for her to have 1.5 full-time equivalent extra staff (in the form of three part-time employees) to work with students who lost ground during last spring’s online learning weeks. She said Shelly Mellinger, Carolyn Major and Neal Wedum are invaluable help for these students, who are mostly in grades seven through 10.

Gameon said the K-12 system received about $160,000 in coronavirus relief funds from the governor’s office. That money paid for $57,000 in technology, $44,000 in extra wages to pay teachers taking extra training, $11,000 for extended summer school, $24,000 for extra supplies and $5,000 for professional development for teachers. All of that money has been spent now, he said.

Athletic Director John Shepherd said COVID-19 continues to cause postponements and cancellations of sporting events.

The District 1B volleyball tournament, which had been slated to be held in Fairfield Oct. 30-31, will be moved to Conrad High School’s much larger gym. Matches will be slated for three days with Thursday and Friday matches played at the “home” or “away” school gym. The four remaining teams will gather in Conrad on Saturday of the tournament. The winner of the first championship match will be named the tournament champion even if an “as needed” second championship match would have been required in a true double elimination tournament.

He said the top five teams from the tournament will advance to the Northern B divisional tournament that will be shared between Shelby and Conrad. The top two teams will advance to the state tournament, whose location has not yet been determined. State volleyball will not be an all-class tournament in Bozeman at Montana State University this season.

He said there will be limitations on how many spectators can attend each match. Right now, he said, he thinks it will be two to six spectators per uniformed athlete, coach and manager, for a maximum attendance, but that could change based on each tournament manager and site.

Also, he said, the Montana High School Association has pushed the start date for practice for wrestling and boys and girls basketball from Nov. 19 to Dec. 7. There will be no wrestling or basketball games until after Jan. 1. Speech and drama teams can start practicing Oct. 26 but all of their initial meets are going to be virtual.

“Everything has been pushed back, and we just have to be flexible as we go,” he said.

Gameon said that elementary school administrative assistant Julie Shepherd has been working with the Teton County Health Department to get a plan approved to allow the high school to sell concessions this winter. The plan so far would have a limited menu and would employ two adults on the home and two on the visitor side to sell food and beverages.

In other action, the board:

•Received a letter from the Choteau Education Association, notifying the board that the union wishes to negotiate for the 2021-22 school year.

•Heard from Gameon that he wants to apply for a Montana Career Opportunities grant to fund a program that would allow high school students to explore careers through Benefis Teton Medical Center, Frontline Ag Solutions and with private contractors like carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

•Approved revised and additional policy dealing with sexual harassment and Title IX issues, based on changes in federal law.

•Hired the lone applicant, Robert Dye, as the new junior high and high school assistant boys basketball coach, pending successful completion of a background check. A stay-at-home dad, Dye is married to Julie King, the new United Methodist Church pastor. He will join Kevin Kovatch as the new head junior high and high school boys basketball coach. The stipend for the high school position is $2,365 for the junior high spot is $868.

•Hired substitute custodian Carmen “Rita” Sohl as a regular custodian to continue her duties cleaning and sanitizing surfaces in the elementary and high school buildings. She will start at $11 per hour.

•Hired Hope Linquist, a 2019 CHS graduate, as a half-time elementary aide and a half-time kitchen assistant. She will earn $11per hour.

•Approved awarding the third-coach stipend for the high school volleyball team to head coach Ann Funk and assistant coach Carla May, who share coaching duties for the C squad. The stipend is $600.

•Approved new substitute teachers Logan Wearley, Kathleen Brown, Faith Shepherd and Ellie Fitzpatrick. Some of those have already completed background checks but a few of them still have to complete the checks.

•Set the next board meeting for Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. in the high school library and via videoconferencing software.