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TF schools monitor COVID as year starts


August 26, 2021

Thompson Falls Elementary is heading into the school year with new faculty members and an increased enrollment. Principal Len Dorscher said the school will welcome five new teachers this year.

Samantha Varner, who graduated high school from Bigfork, is the new first grade teacher, Morgan Owen will be the school’s new English language and arts teacher, the school’s new band director for grades 5-12 will be Haile Ward, Karli Thomas, a Thompson Falls graduate, will be welcomed as the new k-8 physical education teacher and Sarah Naegeli, who has worked for the district for several years, will be the new fourth grade teacher.

“Sarah has been a paraprofessional for us for as long as we can remember,” Dorscher said. “She went back to school to get her teaching certificate and we are pretty excited to have her in the classroom full time.”

The school year started August 25 and with an uptick in COVID-19 cases, and many schools are continuing to keep a close eye on the situation as the new delta variant has made its way into Montana. “We continue to look at and monitor it, but it’s up to the school board to make any bigger decisions,” Dorscher said of the increase in numbers the state has recently seen.

Dorscher says the school is currently in Phase 4 of the district’s COVID-19 reopening plan, which states schools will reopen as normal with in-class instruction.

“Phase 4 can be found on the school’s website but what that means to us is as we head back to school, everything is basically back to normal,” he said. “There are no more mask mandates but masks are accepted of course. We will continue to social distance and be mindful of cleaning.”

Among the many updates the school has done over the summer, a noticeable change faculty and students will see is the new heating system installed this year.

“We are replacing the old boiler with an entirely new heating system this winter and the school will be heated entirely on propane,” Dorscher said. “It’s been an extensive project but it will be very noticeable to our students and teachers. We will have consistent heat and not have to rely on a system that hasn’t been consistent for quite some time now.” The school has been working with Energy Partners to make the changes.

Dorscher says there has been an increase in enrollment. “We have new students who are registering daily,” he said.

The principal correlates this year’s increase to a couple of different reasons. “There are a lot of new people who have moved into the area and we are also seeing new students coming in from out of the district,” Dorscher said.

For those students who live outside of the district’s boundaries and want to enroll, they must apply for admission and be accepted by the school board. “There is a cap on the number of students allowed to enroll from out of the district,” Dorscher said. For out of district students, he says that number is 25% of the district’s population.

“We are screening students more carefully and we are being more aware of who we have coming in,” he said.

Going into the new school year, Dorscher says he has noticed that students and staff are extremely excited to be back. “There is still some concern regarding COVID-19 and the increase in numbers, but the way we ended last school year was as close to normal as we’ve been in a long time,” he stated. “There are students who are coming back this year who didn’t attend last year and we're certainly excited to have them back.”


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