Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney on Thursday unveiled a plan to help school districts across the state prepare for the new academic year and a return to classroom instruction in the face of COVID-19.
Under guidelines released by the Montana Governor’s Office, the plan urges schools to work in partnership with local health officials in setting occupancy limits, requiring masks and monitoring both students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms.
“Our schools are the foundation on which future leaders are made, and we know that in-person teaching serves a critical role in the lives of students and their family,” said Cooney. “In a time of endless unknowns and constant flux, schools can provide structure and familiarity. It’s why we’ve made reopening our public schools a top priority.”
The 17-page plan, written in partnership with educators, union reps and others, covers a number of school functions, from athletics to transportation, where school-bus loads are expected to allow for social distancing. Staff should be trained to identify students struggling with trauma, and larger classes should be broken into smaller groups.
Cooney said the plan is intended to provide for effective and flexible guidelines for all schools to follow and resume in person instruction come fall.
“Releasing this plan today will give schools time to consider this guidance and develop their own health and safety plans to reopen,” he said. “And because we know every district is unique, we expect school districts to consult their public health officials to address the specific needs of each school, and to take every possible safety measure to keep their students, educators and staff healthy.”
The plan released on Thursday is broken into three separate phases, much like the state’s economic reopening. Montana is currently in Phase 2 of that economic plan and if schools were to reopen today, they would follow Phase 2 of the school plan.
Elements of the plan provide guidance on traffic flow in hallways and disinfecting common areas. It covers how meals should be served to minimize congregation, and ways to adjust transportation schedules.
It also gives schools ways to accommodate high-risk students – or students who have a high-risk family member. It sets occupancy limits and calls for social distancing, and urges the wearing of masks.
“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,” Cooney said. “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.”