MISSOULA — Administrators are assuring parents remote learning will remain an option as Missoula County Public Schools resume a fuller schedule of "in class" learning this week.
There is also a feeling it could be next fall before the district returns to any "normal" schedule.
MCPS leaders are pleased with the acceptance, and success of the Missoula Online Academy, the remote learning option the district started last fall to counter the pandemic. And if parents are uncomfortable with the acceleration of in-class learning the next two weeks, the Online Academy remains an option.
"They will likely put them in touch with the administrators in the Online Academy and they can talk through the decision with that parent. I would also -- if parents are going from a school into the Online Academy -- I'd encourage them to talk to their principle at their home school about that decision before they make the decision, 'cause the principle may be able to alleviate some concerns or some fears for parents before they make that decision," MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson said.
Even though there's the remote learning option, Watson has told trustees there will come a point when the Academy path will expire, either because of staffing or reaching the stage where grading makes switching difficult.
“We're not trying to force anybody into a decision, and so we want to make sure they have that option," Watson told MTN News. "It is limited by the number of staff that we have there, and so we can accommodate for as much room as we have, but there may be a point in time where we can no longer accommodate a request because of limited staffing.”
So how long will we continue to see schedules adapting around the coronavirus? Watson tells me he's not expecting any return to "normal" through the end of this school year.
“What we've heard so far is that vaccines for kids, anybody over the age of 16 may happen, you know, late spring. I don't know if they'll ever approve a vaccine for a younger age level, but that would be important that that's in place," Watson said. "Before we, you know, before we go back to some sort of normal school. I do think that transmission rates in the community will come down. The numbers will be more manageable so that we can start looking at next fall looking at more of a traditional school model.”
Watson believes the Online Academy might be one of the features that continues beyond the pandemic. With 10%-to-12% of students involved, and doing well with remote learning, he says it could prove to be a valuable option for some students.