Opinion: MCPS falls short with current schedule, failure to consider parents

As Missoula families, committed to supporting our children and MCPS staff and faculty – we find ourselves at a loss. Throughout this pandemic, the school board has appeared to only represent a minority of teachers. The needs – and difficult realities – of parents and children are not represented.

This spring, remote learning, coupled with abundance of caution, was justified. As we have learned, this is a novel Coronavirus, and we have adjusted as new science emerges. However, over the past 10 months, fear of anecdotal “what ifs” have dominated discussions and decision-making regarding school planning.

The MCPS board, as well as MCPS administration, have overlooked current data and recommendations of experts that point to the critical necessity of public schools remaining open. Our children and community are worse for this oversight.

Children are suffering and their families – many with two working parents – are feeling the stress. Missoula County is one of the only districts in the state currently in a hybrid structure. Across Montana, public school students and teachers have returned to school and progressed with their education.

Meanwhile, MCPS students stand still or fall behind, as most recently reported in an email from MCPS superintendent Rob Watson stating that 40% of K-5 students in Title 1 schools are two or more grade years below grade level for reading, and 28%of K-5 students in non-Title 1 schools are in the same boat.

We now know that districts with full-time schedules have not seen an increase in cases. Research continues to show that schools are not super-spreaders. Further absence of full-time students in MCPS schools results in learning loss (among many other community social health markers).

The hybrid model is insufficient in advancing concepts and curriculum as would normally be expected. Missoula students deserve to return to school full-time.

Across America, school districts respond and adapt to issues as they arise; making a commitment to fully-functioning schools – to serve their students and their communities as mandated. MCPS should join suit – concerns can be addressed on a school-by-school basis, instead of a blanket response for the entire district.

As parents, our fears and ‘what ifs’ have become daily realities. What if my child goes almost an entire year without a formal education? What if our children fall behind? What if the test scores demonstrate a damaging impact? What if limited social interaction leads to lasting emotional and mental health problems? What if I must quit my job to ensure childcare and remote learning are adequately delivered?

Sadly, these concerns are no longer ‘what ifs’ – they are issues facing many Missoula families. We must address these realities not only as families, but as the larger Missoula community. Other area schools are experiencing success with full-time school. We hear a lot of MCPS rhetoric about innovation and a focus on graduation, but the discussion to return to full-time school always seems to fall flat.

Why won’t MCPS consider and adopt the full-time models working for other Montana schools – some in communities with higher numbers of COVID-19 cases?

We are sacrificing our children and their futures. We call on the MCPS board of trustees to return our students to school full-time, now.