MCPS superintendent to recommend that schools stay closed this year

MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson. (Missoula Current)

The University of Montana on Friday said it will adhere to the Missoula City-County Health Department’s plans to delay opening the local economy, and the head of Missoula County Public Schools will recommend they remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Rob Watson, superintendent of MCPS, said he will recommend to the school board that classrooms remain closed and the district finish the academic year with online work.

“I will make the recommendation to our board that we do not reopen this spring,” said Watson. “That would be my recommendation – to stay in remote learning for the rest of this year.”

Saying the city needs more time to prepare for a phased reopening and still lacks testing materials, the Missoula City-County Health Department on Friday implemented guidelines more stringent than those issued this week by Gov. Steve Bullock in his Phase 1 plans to open the state.

Bullock this week said public schools in the state can reopen on May 7, though doing so will be left up to each individual district. Watson said that decision will be up the school board, which meets next Tuesday to discuss the issue. The board is not expected to reach a vote on Tuesday, but rather in a special session planned next Friday.

“The governor left it up to local officials to either go back to school or continue in the remote learning environment,” Watson said. “We will be presenting our trustees with a list of considerations we’ve looked at to plan for an eventual reopen. There’s quite a list of things we’d need to do.”

Watson said those plans would include requirements that all students and staff wear face coverings, something that could prove logistically challenging if the board votes to return to classroom instruction.

The district must also have plans in place for medically vulnerable students.

“The board will keep the safety of our students and staff and community in the foremost of their thoughts, as they always do,” Watson said. “But I’m recommending that we don’t reopen this spring.”

Paula Short, vice president for communications at the University of Montana, said the school will adhere to the local health department’s delayed reopening plans.

“The university will plan accordingly,” said Short. “We want to be good participants in this process.”