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Students in the Blaine County school district are splitting time between the in-person and virtual learning to start the year.

More than 60 students and nearly 20 staff members in the Blaine County School District were in quarantine last week due to confirmed or suspected exposure to COVID-19 according to the school district’s coronavirus dashboard.

The 62 students who were in quarantine the week of Oct. 12 through Oct. 16 included 18 students awaiting COVID-19 test results, Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said at a school board meeting Wednesday. Nine of the 17 quarantined staff members were also awaiting test results, Holmes said.

Those quarantining included 14 students at Bellevue Elementary, 15 students at Hemingway STEAM School, 13 students at Wood River High School, and nine students at Wood River Middle School, according to the dashboard. Alturas Elementary, Carey School and Hailey Elementary each had between one and five students in quarantine last week as well.

Staff members in quarantine work at Alturas Elementary, Bellevue Elementary, Carey School, Hemingway STEAM School and Wood River Middle School; two quarantined staff members are district-wide employees.

There were seven new confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported among BCSD students last week, the dashboard shows: two at Alturas Elementary, four at Wood River High School and one at Wood River Middle School. Four district employees tested positive for the virus last week as well: two staff members at Hailey Elementary, one at Hemingway STEAM School and one who works in the district office.

Last week, Blaine County was in the “red” coronavirus risk level, according to the county’s risk assessment system—indicating that the community is at “critical” risk. The county remains at that level this week. The school district has adopted the same system, but school board chairman Keith Roark on Wednesday said he was “concerned” about the district using the county metrics.

“I’m not sure those accurately reflect what we are doing and what we are capable of doing,” Roark said. “I am far more concerned with cases in our school than I am with the overall county risk level, which may be skewed by any number of factors.”

Since the start of the school year, Blaine County schools have remained in a hybrid learning plan, in which students spend two days a week in the classroom and the other three days learning from home.

The school board on Wednesday discussed a new matrix and decision tree to determine when and why the district might move out of the hybrid learning plan, either to fully in-person learning or to fully remote learning. Key factors will include the amount of spread within schools, contact tracing capacity, staffing and bussing capabilities, and spread within the community.

“I don’t think it’s possible for us to have an absolute plan that we’re for sure going to do,” said Trustee Lara Stone, referring to the matrix and decision tree. “But I think it outlines more clearly what are the critical points that might prevent us from moving one way or might force us to move to a different plan.”

The full matrix can be viewed on the Blaine County School District website.

As of Wednesday evening, there were 842 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Blaine County, according to the South Central Public Health District dashboard. Ninety-seven of those cases were still being monitored.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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