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Montana OPI submits waiver requests in response to school closures

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Posted at 10:59 AM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 13:00:55-04

The Montana Office of Public Instruction said in a news release on Wednesday that it has submitted state and federal waiver requests to ensure that schools in Montana continue to receive funding, do not have to make up lost hours due to school closures, continue to have nutrition resources for students, and do not have to complete federal standardized tests in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Governor Steve Bullock on Sunday announced a set of directives and guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and protect vulnerable Montanans, including the closing of public K-12 schools, social distancing measures, and limiting visitation at nursing home facilities. Bullock's order directed all of Montana’s public K-12 schools to close starting on Monday, March 16, and remain closed through March 27.

The OPI hosted a conference call on Tuesday with district and county superintendents along with statewide education associations, the Governor’s office, and representatives from Montana’s Congressional delegation to provide school leaders with updates and hear their questions and concerns. School leaders expressed the need for flexibility as they serve to protect their students and teachers in these extraordinary times.

Following the call with local school leaders, the OPI submitted two requests to the Governor to use his emergency powers to give schools flexibility. The first request is to hold schools harmless for lost instructional hours due to school closures. The second request is to ensure transportation reimbursements to schools, so they have flexibility in using their transportation resources such as delivering educational materials or nutrition services.

The OPI also submitted a request to the Board of Public Education and the Governor to waive state rules related to federally mandated standardized tests. This will allow schools to focus on student and teacher safety during this time of recommended social distancing. The OPI will be submitting a similar request to the U.S. Department of Education this week.

Finally, the OPI requested and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give schools flexibility for eligible districts to offer school nutrition services such as grab and go meal options or remote school meal sites. The OPI will continue leading conversations with local school leaders, state partners, and the federal government to respond to local school needs and protect student and teacher safety.