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MCPS Superintendent recommending schools begin year in hybrid, in-person model

Posted at 4:11 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 00:55:46-04

MISSOULA — On Monday, Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson released recent survey results on in-person learning from parents as well as what he will recommend to the MCPS Board of Trustees on how the school district should begin classes.

In the letter, Watson says he will recommend the district begin in the Phase 1 hybrid model, which includes both in-person and remote learning. The first day for school would be Aug. 26.

Watson added that in the survey MCPS sent out to parents regarding returning to school, 72% of parents responded to the survey. Of that, 73% of the parents preferred in-person learning while 26% preferred completely remote learning.

Watson also addresses that at Tuesday's meeting he will bring up the risks of returning to school due to COVID-19 as well as the MCPS Online Academy for those who opt for remote learning.

Below is the full letter with attached links:

Hello MCPS Families:

I know everyone is anxious about the return to school plan and the majority of this email provides an update regarding our plan and my recommendation to our school board. But first, I wanted to give you an update regarding the most recent return-to-school survey, thank you for your participation. We asked parents to give us a sense of how many students will request to attend school in person or online. We had 72% of parents respond to the survey. Within those that responded, 73% of students/parents preferred an in-person learning model, while 26% preferred to attend school in a 100% virtual model. There is more information about the 100% virtual option, known as the MCPS Online Academy, later in this email. Registration for the MCPS Online Academy will start on Wednesday, August 12.

With just a little over 2 weeks before the first day of school, I will be making a final recommendation to the Board for consideration about the start of school. I will be doing that at Tuesday’s Board meeting. While the Board will be meeting in person, we will still host a zoom call for others to participate. Due to concerns about unknown crowd size, and a limited amount of space in our board room, we are asking that you use MCAT to listen to the Board meeting or zoom call-in to provide public comment. Information about the Board meeting can be found at this LINK [mcpsmt.org].

I will be recommending to the Board that we start the year on August 26 in the Hybrid Model. A reminder, the hybrid model is some in-person and some remote learning each week. An exact schedule of in-person days will be released in the coming days.

Based on discussions with the county health department, guidance from several external agencies and professional knowledge related to what we know about how children learn, it is my recommendation that MCPS restart in-person education in our Hybrid (Phase 1) model on August 26. As you may have seen from the county health department, there has been a recent increase in case counts, not only in Missoula, but also in the rest of the state. I believe the correct course of action is to restart in-person learning in a Hybrid model, which allows for lower group numbers, provides for a slower start and allows us to watch case counts over the next 4-6 weeks before moving to a every day, every student model. In addition, I will also recommend to the Board that we establish an online (100% virtual) option for any student that would like an alternative to in-person learning.

This recommendation will be reassessed on a weekly basis and any significant changes or updates will be brought to the Board. Any movement between phases (either moving back to Phase 0 or moving forward to Phase 2) will be brought to the Board for consideration.

While I believe that it is important to restart in-person learning, I also know that there will be risk. Here is the other relevant part of my recommendation that has been shared with the Board for consideration. MCPS believes that in-person learning is important, but the return to school also places students and staff at-risk for contracting COVID-19. We expect that any return to in-person learning will result in transmission and positive cases of COVID-19. This risk needs to be managed so that transmission rates are kept low and the local health department is able to complete contract tracing, when there is a confirmed case.

Along with this recommendation, I will also discuss with the Board several important issues related to the restart. I have updated several links that I have shared with you in the past and each of these items will be presented to the Board, you can also find them on our Return to School website [mcpsmt.org].

  • Reopening School Guidance Document: [docs.google.com] This document not only contains guidance from various external sources, but also shows how MCPS plans to respond to that guidance. The last column in this document contains specific strategies and MCPS response to the various reopening topics.
  • MCPS Phasing Plan and COVID-19 Data: [docs.google.com] I have updated this document with three metrics specific to Missoula County: new cases counts, rate of transmission and active case count per 10,000. Each graph contains a brief explanation of how the chart was created. We will continue to update this data in the weeks and months ahead.

At the Board meeting, we will also provide an update about the MCPS Online Academy [mcpsmt.org]. This is our completely online K-12 school dedicated to supporting our staff and students who cannot return to face to face learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The MCPS Online Academy will be available to students while we are in Phase 0 - 2 of our phased reopening plan. The Online Academy may stay open to certain students who qualify once we reach Phase 3 of our reopening plan. Even if the state moves for Phase 3 of reopening, it is unlikely that MCPS will move to Phase 3 until the start of the second semester, in late January.

K-12 students will be taught by MCPS educators, however, it may not be a teacher who is a member of your student’s home school. We will be assigning teachers to the online academy who are also working remotely. More information regarding start date and what students can expect will be released on the website, so please check the link MCPS Online Academy [mcpsmt.org], for updates.

Montana High School Association (MHSA) update: You may have caught (this story) regarding high school activities. The article speaks to a request made to MHSA for a delayed start for our athletic season. In addition to this request, AA Superintendents and activities directors, have also been discussing switching some of our activities to spring, which would have to be approved by MHSA. I will update you asap regarding any significant changes to our activities program, as the seasons are set to start very soon.

Thank you for reading and for staying up to date on the latest information about our return to school plans.

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