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By Andi Bourne
Pathfinder 

MCPS to finish year with distance learning plan

 

Photo provided

SSHS sophomore Chase Haines' April 7 COVID-19 journal entry. COVID-19 journals are a requirement in Lori Messenger's English class.

After deliberation and consideration of public input, the Missoula County Public School Board of Trustees voted Friday, May 1 to keep the 18 elementary and high schools on their remote learning plan through the remainder of the school year. All school campuses, office buildings and playgrounds will remain closed until further notice. At their next meeting, the school board will further discuss plans for graduation ceremonies and other year-end activities.

Some of the key issues that were considered in the decision to remain on remote learning included:

• The risk of transmitting the coronavirus within the school buildings.

• The short-term lack of available personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and staff.

• The short-term lack of supplies to conduct health screenings for all students in an efficient manner.

• The short-term lack of nurses/medical staff in each building to conduct screenings.

• The current requirements regarding group sizes of 25 or less and the possibility of a partial day schedule with only a few weeks remaining in the school year.

• The numbers of students and staff who would be unable to return to school due to personal medical conditions placing them at high risk.

• The possibility of a confirmed COVID-19 case in one of our schools, which would cause three to five day closures in a period with only a few weeks left in the school year.

• The needs of students who are struggling in a remote learning environment and the likelihood that students will have more challenges when some families return to work in May, which may require us to adapt our remote learning support.

• The need to plan for safety and staff training for the summer and fall.

"I would like the public and the trustees to know that this was not an easy recommendation for us. We realize that there are difficulties for remote learning and we all agree to that," said Superintendent Rob Watson. "But we had to weigh the short term benefits versus the short-term risks and in our mind and from the administrators' stand point, the potential risks far outweigh the short term benefits of reopening."

While the board did not address any of the public comments during the meeting, several members of the public expressed their concern for those students who are either not accessing remote learning or face learning challenges that prohibit them from learning online. They fear the learning gap next year could be an insurmountable challenge. A solution presented to address these gaps would be a more robust summer school.

Several parents expressed their desire for the school year to be shortened. While they appreciate all the work and effort from teachers, they felt their children have capped out on what they will learn from home and would like to see the students be able to finish early. This would especially be helpful for high schoolers so they could start working.

Along with the unanimous vote to remain in remote learning through the end of the year, the MCPS board also adopted a declaration of unforeseen emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic that allows them to continue to receive state funding through June 30.

Between May 4 - 13, MCPS will work with administrators and educators to finalize the grading information. In addition, MCPS has a response team working on an "end-of-year" plan that includes operational topics such as return of materials, locker/desk cleanout and other tasks that need to be accomplish in a safe manner as we think about wrapping up the end of the year. Graduation ceremonies are also being discussed and that information will also be decided in the next few weeks.

"I understand that today's decision to remain on remote learning brings relief to some and anxiety for others," said Watson. "The good news is that we now have the ability to plan out the next six weeks of our school year with an understanding that we will remain in our remote learning mode of instruction and operations."

Videos of the May 1 board meeting and press conference as well as a Town Hall meeting with parents held May 4 is available on the Missoula County Public Schools' Facebook page. Please visit https://www.mcpsmt.org/seeleyswan for updates specific to Seeley-Swan High School.

 

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