MISSOULA — The topic of how often school students should be in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a hot one.
Whether it's full-time, hybrid, or not at all, everyone seems to have an opinion and recently, a group of Missoula County Public School (MCPS) parents advocating to get kids back into the classroom full time has formed on Facebook.
A group of concerned MCPS parents and educators advocating for students to return to school full-time created a Facebook group to share their concerns regarding the current hybrid model of learning. Organizers noticed shared concerns across multiple social media platforms.
“Kids in our district are falling behind, I mean it appears to be at every grade level. School staff and faculty are some of the primary mandatory reporters when kids are experiencing abuse or neglect, and then there are social needs we know school’s meet," organizer, Emma Burns said.
The topic of what is best for school students, staff, and the community has been at the forefront of discussion in the months since the pandemic began.
Members of MCPS Parents Advocating for Return to School believe having kids in an often-uncontrolled environment with the potential of lack of supervision, creates the opportunity for more exposure than if they were in school.
“I think the over-arching theme is that in terms of exposure having them in school in a controlled setting more days per week is safer than not,"organizer Jennifer Oakland said.
Katie Kutz, who attended her first MCPS weekly COVID Task Force Meeting on Monday, says she felt like a lot of the statistical data being reported -- including information presented by Missoula City-County Public Health Officer Ellen Leahy -- was not being heard by the school system,
“It was 100% support for re-opening of schools based on the scientific data, based on that new Harvard study that tells us that we should open our schools and how to safely do that, and I just felt like it’s a lot of passing the buck," Kutz told MTN News.
MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson says much of Monday’s meeting was dedicated to new data released in Mid-December by the Harvard Global Health Institute. He added adds that because it came right before winter break, time is needed to process the information.
The new guidance really changed our perspective on how schools approach reopening," Watson said. "The sole purpose of Monday’s meeting was to review the guidance and talk about the implications for our district, but not to make any decisions.”
Watson told MTN News that he will meet with the COVID Task Force again on Monday and will present the school board with their recommendation on Tuesday evening, with the possibility of having students back in the classroom five days a week in the near future.
“That’s what the recommendation will entail is when do we implement this?" Watson said. "And again our next big change in our schedule is happening January 25th. And in order to implement that decision on January 25th, we’re going to have to make sure we have enough staff in place to do it.”
MCPS Parents Advocating for Return to School members say they want to be clear that they are pushing for full capacity school only because data, experts, and medical bodies are confident it is safe for students, teachers, and other staff.
Superintendent Watson says he is very impressed with the job his teachers and staff have done across the board at keeping the schools clean and safe for students over these last few months.