HELENA – Governor Steve Bullock and Lt. Governor Mike Cooney today released the Governor’s Plan for Reopening Safe and Healthy Schools for Montana to provide flexible guidance for public schools to prepare to offer in-person instruction in the fall.
“We are acutely aware of the role played by in-person teaching, not only in the students’ lives, but also in the lives of the entire family. Public education has shaped who we are today, and we want to make certain that our children have the same experience. This is why we’ve made the safe reopening of our public schools a top priority,” Governor Bullock and Lt. Gov. Cooney wrote in the plan. “Noting the uniqueness of every school district in Montana, our goal for this document is not to be prescriptive, but to provide effective, flexible guidelines to all schools in hopes that we can safely resume in-person instruction in the fall.”
“Keeping each person in our community safe as we re-open schools is a solemn responsibility. As a member of my own district's back to school team, I appreciate the guidance given in this document, which will help frame our plans to return safely to school,” Sharon Carroll, a teacher in Ekalaka said. “Engaging local public health authorities and local school district leadership teams while using the resources, procedures, and protocols shared in the Governor's Plan will assist teams in developing a Health and Safety Plan unique to each district. As a teacher, a rancher, and a former chair of Montana's Board of Public Education, I have often observed Montana grit. We've got this, Montana.”
“MFPE appreciates the Governor’s inclusion of our members throughout this process. MFPE members will rely on this guidance as they continue planning to safely reopen schools in the fall,” MFPE President Amanda Curtis said.
Governor Bullock tasked Lt. Gov. Cooney with bringing together experts including superintendents, principals, teachers, union representatives, and public health officials to develop the plan based on insight and firsthand knowledge of challenges schools are facing. Governor Bullock has authority to close schools during the emergency and provided guidance reviewed by health experts to ensure schools have the tools they need to reopen as safely as possible this fall.
The plan acknowledges the critical role in-person instruction plays in the lives of students and their families. Schools provide students with structure and familiarity and offer socialization and connection. Many families rely on schools for nutritious meals, counseling, and childcare. Additionally, staff and teachers who spend in person time with students are able to identify signs of child abuse or neglect.
Governor Bullock and Lt. Gov. Cooney are encouraging schools to consider the guidance provided and develop their own Health and Safety plans to reopen. While every district is unique, school districts should consult their local public health officials to address the specific needs of each school and take every possible safety measure to keep students, educators, and staff healthy and safe.
The plan is categorized into three different phases to align with Governor Bullock’s Reopening the Big Sky Plan. Nothing in the guidance prevents a school from taking additional precautions based on their needs.
Each phase has high level guidance for schools and includes more specific protocols and recommendations for each school to consider for their individual plan. The plan also includes best practices related to academics, extracurricular activities, transportation, physical and structural protocols to minimize interactions and crowding, while considering ways to promote the social, emotional, and behavioral health of students.
Some of the highlights encourage schools to consider:
- Accommodations for students, teachers, and staff who are in at risk group
- Occupancy limits that allow for social distancing
- Guidance on traffic flow to avoid crowding in congregational spaces
- Cleaning and disinfecting protocols
- Processes for monitoring students and staff for symptoms and history of exposure
- Producing guidelines in relation to isolation or quarantine if needed
- How to serve meals while minimizing congregation
- Adjusting transportation schedules
- Protocols for sports and other extracurricular activities
A list of comprehensive additional resources is provided for schools including from the Centers for Disease Control, the Office of Public Instruction, and the Montana High School Association.
The full plan is available here: https://covid19.mt.gov/Portals/223/Documents/Education%20Final.pdf?ver=2020-07-02-123418-013