Parents in Williston Public School District No. 1 will have the choice whether to send their students to school in-person or virtually at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The District 1 school board will likely vote in early August on a COVID-19 response plan. That will include giving families the choice between a traditional, in-person setting and what the district is calling a virtual academy.

The district’s first efforts at distance learning earlier this year weren’t perfect, but some things worked, district superintendent Jeffrey Thake told board members Wednesday, July 22.

“We’re going to take what worked really well as distance learning and make it virtual academy as a choice,” he said.

Parents will have to decide between the two options at the beginning of the school year, Wyndy McGinley, director of student services, said. They’ll be able to change in between semesters.

Board member Emily Rammage-Geltel, suggested the district make sure it would be allowed to tell students they had to stick with the choice they made.

“What are our rights as a school to say no you can’t come back?” she asked. “What can we do as a school to enforce that? I think that’s something we should probably get an attorney opinion on.”

The plan for students who will attend school in-person is being developed building by building, and includes scenarios for multiple possible levels of spread. Those levels are color coded blue, green, yellow, orange and red, the same colors used by the state to show how widespread the disease is.

The blue and green levels will include some social distancing and a general recommendation for people to use face coverings. Face coverings will be required sometimes, such as when a visitor comes to the building lobby or when using district transportation.

When the level is yellow, masks would be required when people congregate and in the hallways.

Orange and red levels would mean more social distancing and distance learning.

The exact criteria for each level isn’t as clear as when the state required distance learning earlier this year. The district’s committee is still asking questions from the state and finalizing details.

Thake told board members he expected the plan to be ready by next Friday, July 31. Board members agreed to look at the plan over that weekend and discuss it at a special meeting Monday, Aug. 3.

Principals and district administrators are still working on the building-by-building plan, and that will continue through next week. Because each building will have its own plan, parents should start there, Thake said.

“Please reach out to your building principal first,” he said.

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