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Gov. Bullock: Montana schools can open May 7

Local school leaders can choose to remain closed
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Posted at 2:08 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 16:11:29-04

BILLINGS — All Montana schools have the option to bring students and staff back into the classroom beginning on May 7 according to phase one of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's plan to reopen the state released Wednesday.

Gov. Bullock said during a news conference that schools can make the decision locally to stay closed and continue online learning if they choose.

In the guidelines released for schools , maintaining social distance is still recommended. Read a portion of the guidelines below.

MAINTAIN SOCIAL DISTANCE

  • Consider use of face coverings by all staff and students
  • Keep students with the same group and in the same classroom, with teachers rotating when practical.
  • Consider students eating lunch in the classroom to help limit mixing of students.
  • Cancel extracurricular activities.
  • Prevent any non-school staff, including parents, from entering school buildings.
  • Consider reducing bus loads to allow for one student per seat.

For rural school districts with lower school populations, the social-distancing guidelines may be easier to follow. For larger Class AA schools, the guidelines could be a challenge.

Gov. Bullock also said Wednesday that he's heard from Montana's school administrators that graduation ceremonies have been a major concern from parents.

"It is up to the local school boards. But I would encourage you all to be creative in considering how you can honor your graduates, while minimizing, not eliminating the risk of the spread of the virus," Gov. Bullock said.

Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson sent a letter to parents and students noting that at their Tuesday, April 28 board meeting trustees will be given a list of items that should be considered as they weigh the decision of whether or not to reopen our schools this spring. For example, social distancing, use of cloth face coverings, and protecting students and staff who are in vulnerable groups, just to name a few of the most critical items.

"We have been collecting many thoughts and questions from staff and community, regarding a decision to reopen or stay closed. We will try and capture all of the thoughts that have been shared in our list of considerations presented to the Board. We believe our Board will use this list in their deliberations. We will also use this list of considerations to develop a reopen plan that could be used this Spring or next Fall. The Board will begin their deliberations at the April 28th meeting and likely make a final decision at a special Board meeting on May 5th," the letter read.

Anyone who is interested in watching that meeting, check out the details for watching via livestream on the MCPS webpage.

Gov. Bullock also issued the following guidelines to school districts when considering graduation ceremonies.

GRADUATION CEREMONIES

  • Provide a live stream of graduation
  • Consider limiting spectator attendance
  • For larger schools, consider grouping graduates or providing multiple ceremonies
  • Follow social distancing between families

"We may well be facing these same issues when school starts. Of the 439 positive cases reported in Montana since we've got our first, only 12 have been age 19 and under. We need to figure out how to best serve our children while the virus is still present in our communities," Gov. Bullock said.

MCPS plans to present trustees with contingency plans related to high school graduation ceremonies. The trustees will be asked to make a final decision regarding graduation at the May 12 board meeting. The letter notes that the "contingency plans will rely heavily on the guidance of our Missoula City-County Health Department and restrictions regarding crowd size or social distancing."

Parents and students are being asked to submit any questions or concerns online. Watson says that the MCPS COVID-19 Response Team will be monitoring the form "in our continuing response within our school district."

Watch Gov. Bullock's full press conference below.

Gov. Bullock announces gradual reopening of Montana