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BSSD aims to return more students to the classroom



The Big Sky School District school board is launching a campaign to acquire consent from students to partake in weekly surveillance testing in an effort to return more students to the classroom. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – At a Nov. 17 Big Sky School District school board meeting, the board discussed the possibility of returning more students to the classroom with the end goal to return 100 percent of the student body to the classroom every day. 

The board established that at least 65 percent of students of each grade grouping—elementary, middle and high school individually—would need to consent to weekly surveillance testing in order to begin a phased return of more students to campus each day.

“I mean the board’s goal has always been 100 percent in-person learning, to continue to fulfill the mission of the district,” said BSSD Superintendent Dr. Dustin Shipman.

If 65 percent of students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade—elementary grade levels—consent to weekly surveillance testing efforts, then an increased number of students could begin returning to the classroom in those grade levels daily. Middle school grade levels, sixth through eighth, would follow. Once 65 percent of the student population in those grade levels consented to weekly surveillance testing, they would begin to return more students in-person daily, followed by the high school, grades ninth through 12th, with the same surveillance testing commitment threshold.

“But really the point of getting kids back in the classroom, safely and with testing, is to ensure that we are keeping our kids at or above grade level, you know, the entire student body,” said BSSD Board Chairman Loren Bough.

“I mean it’s the reason that I’m in the business is to have students in the classroom,” Shipman said.

The phased reintegration would begin with elementary grade levels, then middle school grades with the high school students returning in full last.

Approximately 36 percent of students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade have provided consent for surveillance testing currently. Nearly 49 percent of middle school grade level students have agreed to take part and nearly 44 percent of students in the high school grade levels have opted into surveillance testing. Cumulatively, roughly 42 percent of the overall student body has agreed to take part in surveillance testing as of EBS press time on Nov. 18.

“… So we’ll start that campaign today and just continue to monitor it and make decisions based on that participation level,” Shipman said. Some capacity of the surveillance testing consent campaign will likely be conducted via email.

The board also discussed possible thresholds that they would like to exceed regarding staff consent to surveillance testing. Shipman said he’d like to see staff consent, “as high of a number as possible.” Approximately 56 percent of staff members have provided consent to the weekly surveillance testing so far.

Beginning the week of Dec. 7, thanks to a commitment from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, BSSD will have the ability to test 320 students and staff each week with results anticipated to be returned in one day or shorter, free of charge. The tests will likely begin being processed at a location in Big Sky Town Center, according to Bough. 

“We’re convinced that with this kind of testing …. you can deliver the results that parents are expecting,” he said.

The school board also discussed the possibility of implementing a COVID-19 dashboard on the school district’s website. The dashboard went live on Nov. 18, displaying the percentage of students in each grade tier and staff who have agreed to take part in surveillance testing as well as previous surveillance test results.

“I think … we’re going to be responsive to the weekly test results,” Bough said. “If there’s a big outbreak, as a result of getting all the kids back in school, we can go back to our cohort models.” He added that the testing data will be key when making decisions in the future.

As of EBS press time on Nov. 18, BSSD has experienced three cases of COVID-19 out of the 112 tests that have been completed, translating to an approximately 3 percent overall positivity rate.

To view BSSD’s COVID-19 dashboard, visit

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