Arntzen submits comprehensive state, federal waiver requests for MT schools

Posted at 10:47 AM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 16:16:25-04

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has submitted state and federal waiver requests, according to a press release from the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) sent Wednesday.

The release says the intention of the waiver requests is to ensure:

  • That local schools continue to receive funding
  • Do not have to make up lost hours due to school closures
  • Continue to have nutrition resources for students, and
  • Do not have to complete federal standardized tests in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I urge the OPI’s state and federal partners to give our local schools maximum flexibility to serve the needs of their students and teachers in these extraordinary times while also protecting their health and safety,” Arntzen said in the release. “The OPI is committed to providing every possible support to our students. I am advocating that state and federal leaders provide certainty to local communities as we look ahead to school doors opening again.”

The OPI formally submitted the waiver requests Tuesday after a conference call with district and county superintendents, statewide education associations, the Governor’s Office, and representatives from Montana’s Congressional delegation.

The first request is to hold schools harmless for lost instructional hours due to school closures. The second request is to ensure transportation reimbursements to schools so they have flexibility in using their transportation resources such as delivering educational materials or nutrition services.

The OPI also submitted a request to the Board of Public Education and the Governor to waive state rules related to federally mandated standardized tests. This will allow schools to focus on student and teacher safety during this time of recommended social distancing. The OPI will be submitting a similar request to the U.S. Department of Education this week.

Finally, the OPI requested and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give schools flexibility for eligible districts to offer school nutrition services such as grab and go meal options or remote school meal sites.

The OPI says it will "continue leading conversations with local school leaders, state partners, and the federal government to respond to local school needs and protect student and teacher safety."