Montana public schools get guidance on re-opening

Posted at 7:35 AM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 11:02:51-04

Governor Steve Bullock and Lt. Governor Mike Cooney on Thursday released the Governor’s Plan for Reopening Safe and Healthy Schools for Montana to provide guidance for public schools to prepare to offer in-person instruction in the fall.

Bullock directed Montana’s public K-12 schools to close on Monday, March 16, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The closure was initially ordered for two weeks but was extended, and once it expired, school districts across the state opted to remain closed and conduct online learning for students through the remainder of the academic year.

A news release from Bullock on Thursday says that the re-opening plan for schools is categorized into three phases to align with his Reopening the Big Sky Plan. Each phase has high level guidance for schools and includes more specific protocols and recommendations for each school to consider for their individual plan. The plan also includes best practices related to academics, extracurricular activities, transportation, physical and structural protocols to minimize interactions and crowding, while considering ways to promote the social, emotional, and behavioral health of students.

Some of the highlights encourage schools to consider:

  • Accommodations for students, teachers, and staff who are in at risk group
  • Occupancy limits that allow for social distancing
  • Guidance on traffic flow to avoid crowding in congregational spaces
  • Cleaning and disinfecting protocols
  • Processes for monitoring students and staff for symptoms and history of exposure
  • Producing guidelines in relation to isolation or quarantine if needed
  • How to serve meals while minimizing congregation
  • Adjusting transportation schedules
  • Protocols for sports and other extracurricular activities

“We are acutely aware of the role played by in-person teaching, not only in the students’ lives, but also in the lives of the entire family. Public education has shaped who we are today, and we want to make certain that our children have the same experience. This is why we’ve made the safe reopening of our public schools a top priority,” Governor Bullock and Lt. Gov. Cooney wrote in the plan. “Noting the uniqueness of every school district in Montana, our goal for this document is not to be prescriptive, but to provide effective, flexible guidelines to all schools in hopes that we can safely resume in-person instruction in the fall.”

Click here to read the complete plan (PDF).

Elsie Arntzen, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, also released re-opening guidance for public schools on Thursday.

“Students, parents, and educators went above and beyond to continue education during the COVID-19 outbreak this spring. We know that this fall school year will be unique. This collaborative guidance will elevate learning to support our Montana students however and wherever they learn,” said Arntzen in a news release.

The task forces included students, parents, educators, health officials, education associations, OPI specialists, and other community members. The Reopening Montana Schools Guidance provides non-regulatory resources for Montana schools to use in conjunction with their own plans for the new school year and includes the areas of:

  • Safe physical environments
  • Academic programming
  • Social-emotional support
  • Flexibilities within state rules and statute
  • School nutrition
  • Special education
  • Variety of other issues related to education.

Click here to read the complete plan (PDF).

At this point, school districts have not yet announced when or how they plan to re-open campuses for in-person instruction; we will update you as they announce their plans.