Billings Public Schools will be dropping block scheduling next year in favor of returning to a six-period day.
Superintendent Greg Upham announced the decision Monday night at a Billings School District 2 Board of Trustees meeting.
A survey sent out to students, staff and parents came back mostly in favor of the six-period schedule that middle school and high schools in the district had utilized before the pandemic.
The 2020-2021 switch to block scheduling had been part of a plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Billings schools.
Of staff and principals in SD2 middle schools surveyed, 75% were in favor of the six-period day; and in high schools the same groups responded 60% in favor of changing back to the six-period schedule, according to Upham.
The 2021-2022 school year will begin on Aug. 23, Upham said Monday night. Upham repeated his past hope that masks won't be required next school year but said a decision hasn't been made yet. Conversations with medical professionals are ongoing and Upham said the district will continue to monitor virus activity over the summer.
"I'm hoping that we won't but we'll follow the best medical advice that we have available to us and which has helped guide us through this whole process from the beginning," Upham said.
A decision has also yet to be made on whether or not summer school in Billings Public Schools will have a mask requirement.
Upham also said Monday night that the district will not be operating "a standalone remote" learning program next year.
"We will however support our students who have mental health or physical health issues as we have in the past in a variety of platforms which could be homebound, which could be asynchronous, which could be many different types of instruction moving forward," Upham said.
On this year's graduation at Metra, Upham said that the plan remains to allow six spectators per graduate, which is an increase over the two-per-graduate limit from last year. Masking will be required of graduates on the Metra floor and encouraged for guests, according to the superintendent. Plans could be coming out this week from building principals, he said.
Also at the Monday night meeting trustees voted to approve refinancing 2014 and 2015 elementary bond issuances.
The expectation is that the refinanced rate of 2.05%, compared to the previous rate of 4.67%, will save the district and its taxpayers about $5.8 million.
Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton addressed the board of trustees early on in the meeting to provide an update on the county COVID-19 situation. Vaccine demand is "dropping precipitously," he said.
This week about 25% of available vaccine doses have been claimed by appointment. Felton said that over the last several weeks the demand has declined from 90% in a given week to 50%, to 40%, to the current low.
He encouraged people to get vaccinated, and stated that no medical intervention, as he referred to the vaccine, comes with zero risk.
"When you look at that number of people who get naturally infected about 5% of those folks end up hospitalized and about 1% of those people die, so it is far safer and far faster to get the population immunized through vaccination," he said.
Between natural infections and vaccinations, RiverStone estimates over 35% of the population could have immunity, but that comes with caveats. Felton noted that they haven't been able to parse the data for people who were infected with COVID but also got vaccinated, and also noted that not all cases in the county have been tested for and reported.
The local goal is 75% of the population has immunity, so that virus spread is hampered by herd immunity or what Felton called "population protection".
"It's unlikely to me that we'll get to that 75-ish percent immunization rate" Felton said.