MISSOULA — Missoula County Public School leaders are continuing to refine plans for re-opening schools this fall. But western Montana's largest school district must iron out more details than just students wearing face masks.
Back in May, school leaders had expressed hope that the COVID-19 pandemic would have eased by this point in the summer, giving them a cleared decision path for returning to in-class learning this fall. But with the recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases that picture is still difficult to bring into focus.
For MCPS, it's a case of balancing the obvious benefits of students returning to school against the apparent, and not-so-apparent operational risks. While plans are still being developed, some ideas are emerging.
With the state and the city of Missoula in Phase 2 reopening, the district could group students into "cohorts" to make it easier to trace contacts and limit transmission. Masks would be required for older students, with buildings closed to visitors and an aggressive plan for sanitizing.
There would be on-site learning for all students every day, but with a shorter school schedule, and families could opt for 100% remote learning. Extra-curricular activities would be limited to cut down on group sizes, and schools could be closed for two to five days when positive cases develop.
Superintendent Rob Watson says it's a case of being flexible, and adaptable.
"We have to be ready if we're in Phase 1 or Phase 2 of re-opening," Watson said. "Or if the case counts go up a lot in our county, and the county health officer says 'no, we really need to pull back on group size,' then we have to be ready for that. So, what I'm presenting to the board is really a couple of different options. If we're in Phase 1 or we have to reduce the group size we'll have some plans for that. And then if we're in Phase 2 and new think the group size can be a little larger we'll have plans for that."
Watson hopes to have recommendations firmed up by the end of the month, with another survey for parents and then final action by the school board in early August.
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