Distance learning to continue at Swan Valley School

SWAN VALLEY – The Swan Valley School board voted unanimously at a special board meeting May 4 to not resume in-class instruction and unanimously adopted a declaration of unforeseen emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic that allows them to continue to receive state funding through June 30.

Swan Valley School Principal Ralph King recommended that Swan Valley School finish out the school year using the distance learning model. He told the board he discussed the issue with other administrators and the Montana School Board Association (MSBA) officials. He solicited input from the teachers and families via surveymonkey and he weighed the benefits of opening the school with the drawbacks.

“The health and safety of our students, staff and greater community is in the forefront of my thinking,” wrote King in his letter to the board. “Keeping our school community safe and healthy is my number one priority.”

King told the board that he just learned of two small elementary schools in Garfield County in the eastern part of the state that are opening with a blended model. Garfield County has no reported cases of COVID-19 as of May 4 and is surrounded by counties that also are case free.

King said that the state restrictions to reopen would be logistically difficult to achieve. He spoke candidly when he said he would be hard pressed to ensure that all the state requirements could be followed all the time. This could open the school up to liability.

King spoke with the MSBA liability insurance and was told that reopening the school would create a large liability for the district if someone were to get sick. He has also been following the national discussion regarding business liabilities due to COVID-19. President Trump will not sign off on the liabilities, leaving businesses to accept the risk themselves.

King told the board that a few parents wanted to see their children come back to school. Quite a few said not to resume in-classroom instruction and others that said even if the school reopened, they would not send their child back.

All of the board members agreed with the points King made in his recommendation. They added that the teachers, students and parents are in a routine that is working, the students are learning and it doesn’t make sense to disrupt that for a few weeks. They also wanted to support the teachers and their comfort level.

After unanimously deciding to follow King’s recommendation the board agreed that they would have a work session in the near future to discuss next year and the options they have to make their learning situation for both teachers and students the most effective.

Swan Valley School was the last of the schools in Missoula County to make their decision. All schools in Missoula County adopted the declaration of unforseen emergency and continued remote instruction including Sunset School in Greenough.

The next regularly scheduled meeting will be May 12 at 7 p.m. at Swan Valley School.


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