Bullock: Montana schools can open May 7

Local school leaders can choose to remain closed
Posted at 1:38 PM, Apr 22, 2020

BILLINGS — Beginning May 7, all Montana schools have the option to bring students and staff back into the classroom according to phase one of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's plan to reopen the state released Wednesday.

At a news conference, Bullock said schools can make the decision locally to stay closed and continue online learning if they choose.

In the guidelines released for schools, maintaining social-distance is still recommended. Read a portion of the guidelines below.

• Consider use of face coverings by all staff and students
• Keep students with the same group and in the same classroom, with teachers rotating when practical.
• Consider students eating lunch in the classroom to help limit mixing of students.
• Cancel extracurricular activities.
• Prevent any non-school staff, including parents, from entering school buildings.
• Consider reducing bus loads to allow for one student per seat.

For rural school districts with lower school populations, the social-distancing guidelines may be easier to follow. For larger Class AA schools, the guidelines could be a challenge.

In Billings, School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham said Monday he doesn't think it's a good idea to bring students and staff back into the classroom. He said this is because he doesn't think social-distancing can be done in the k-12 schools.

No final decision has yet been made by the school board yet as to whether the Billings schools will continue with online learning.

"We will work with the trustees and hopefully get an answer out to you soon," Upham said in a Facebook live video Wednesday following the Governor's news conference.

Billings students have been learning online for about six weeks.

Some smaller schools in the Billings area have announced they will close for the rest of the school year. Lockwood Schools announced its closure on Monday.

Pioneer Elementary School near the Billings Heights made the decision to close on Wednesday.

Huntley Project Schools Superintendent Mark Wandle said his district is weighing options and should have a decision by Wednesday next week.

Q2 reached out to schools in Shepherd and Joliet but have not heard back.

Bullock said he's heard from Montana's school administrators that graduation ceremonies have been a major concern from parents.

"It is up to the local school boards. But I would encourage you all to be creative in considering how you can honor your graduates, while minimizing, not eliminating the risk of the spread of the virus," Bullock said.

The Governor issued the following guidelines to school districts when considering graduation ceremonies.

• Provide a live stream of graduation
• Consider limiting spectator attendance
• For larger schools, consider grouping graduates or providing multiple ceremonies
• Follow social distancing between families

"We may well be facing these same issues when school starts. Of the 439 positive cases reported in Montana since we've got our first, only 12 have been age 19 and under. We need to figure out how to best serve our children while the virus is still present in our communities," Bullock said.