Potomac announces Pioneers re-opening plan

Potomac School Board

POTOMAC - Potomac School is preparing for students to return Aug. 26 since remaining closed after spring break in March. Principal John Rouse presented the re-opening plan and recommendations to the School Board at their Aug. 10 meeting. They agreed to open in-person with the opportunity for parents and students to engage in online at-home learning. The board also addressed several topics regarding the re-opening plan including face coverings, athletics and the eighth grade trip funds from last year.

Rouse created a Safe Learning Plan which include materials sent out to parents that explained the most recent updates including daily home health checks, symptoms lists, testing information, sanitizing and cleaning procedures and sick policies. “There is a school health plan in place and supplies are in order,” said Rouse, who also provided a ‘return to school’ chart.

The school staff has been providing the community with informational materials to keep the lines of communication open between the school, students and their families and the Potomac community. Other materials sent out included the opt-out form, for students who will be schooling at home for the first quarter until Oct. 22. A survey was also sent to parents. The survey consisted of questions of whether or not parents are going to school their students at home or send them to school.

From the initial survey, the majority of families who responded replied that they would send their children to school. At the time, only ten families indicated they would be schooling from home. The parents of nine students indicated they were undecided depending on school board decisions. For those opting out of in-class instruction, they will be able to access a live stream of classroom instruction.

During that Aug. 10 school board meeting, discussion revolved around back to school and what that would look like for students and staff. Public input included thoughts from parents on class sizes, spacing and social distancing requirements.

“We hope to rotate classes like we already do, we are controlling the flow of students,” Rouse said. Students will be spaced out in their classrooms. “We will have normal classes but stagger things like recess and library,” Rouse added during the meeting.

Grants including the Academic Push Program (APP), Cares Act and those from Montana will be used to help out with things like extra [curriculum] resources for students, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies and live-stream equipment.

The school board discussed and voted on several parts of the re-opening plan including:

Face coverings:

Rouse told the Board at the Aug. 10 meeting that because the state is currently in Phase Two of the Governor’s reopening plan, the school can open with in-person instruction and it is up to the board to decide whether or not to wear masks.

The Missoula City-County Health Department (MCCHD) issued a local order July 9 requiring face coverings in all indoor public spaces in the county for those 12 and older.

The MCCHD explained that for anything to change to the local board rule/health officer order, there would need to be a public board of health meeting, along with a proposed amendment, conversation and vote.

During the meeting, when asked about the Missoula County order and how that applied to the school, Chair Cliff Vann replied, “The local school boards have a considerable amount of say in these decisions and what we’re deciding is priority over what Missoula County has decided.”

Vann expressed that he didn’t think the staff should make it a confrontational issue.

Some of the teachers felt that wearing a mask in certain parts of the school was a reasonable request to protect their health and the students. However they wanted to treat their classrooms as their “family unit” meaning they would put their mask on and when they returned to their desk, they could take their mask off.

The school voted 3 to 2 to require masks for 18 and up except for staff in their own work area. Masks remained optional for anyone under age 18 per their June 8 decision. Following the meeting Vann responded to the Pathfinder by email clarifying that the decision to make face coverings optional. He wrote it was based on three factors:

1. Prevailing information indicating kids are not likely to spread Covid19, and it is acknowledged that the data continues to evolve and advance.

2. Desire to get kids back to the most effective learning environment - in school.

3. The Board felt the Potomac community is more aligned with “no kid masks.”

The school board’s decision regarding masks was overturned Aug. 12 when Governor Steve Bullock amended the July 15 face covering mandate to include public and private schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. 

“I know that school Districts and School Boards are navigating through unprecedented times. At the end of the day we all have that same goal to make sure that our kids can return to school safely,” said Bullock. “However, for those that are strongly encouraging the wearing of masks, I do fear that that will not be enough to keep those teachers and students safe. Every other public and government building requires face coverings. There is no principled reason why the same shouldn’t be the case for our schools.”

Following the Governor’s announcement, Potomac School stated that they always want what is best for their students. Vann wrote in an email that the governor’s decision is the final factor regarding masks. He confirmed the board’s decision to exempt students from masks is no longer relevant.

Per Majestic Bus Services, masks are also mandatory for anyone riding the school bus for school related activities including regular bus routes and Friday programs including Explorers.


The Board voted not to participate in competitive fall athletics including volleyball and flag football. This is due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

“We will offer practices for our students in both of these sports for the purposes of skill development and conditioning under conditions that include measures designed to limit students’ exposure to the virus including sanitizing equipment, strict limits regarding physical contact and reasonable social distancing measures,” said Rouse.

Other sports like basketball will be decided upon at a later date.

Eighth grade trip funds:

The Board decided that funds raised by the eighth-grade class of 2020 for their class trip will transfer to the upcoming eighth grade class of 2021. The class of 2020 requested it be a gift to the underclassmen.

In other business:

• Potomac resident Suzanne Tomer was approved to assist in the Potomac School lunch program and credit card use was approved for the lunch program staff.

• The wooden ADA ramp outside the school was replaced by local contractors as it would freeze during poor weather.

Questions and Answer meeting Aug. 11:

During the online Question and Answer session Aug. 11, parents spoke with Rouse and some teachers about their concerns about how to prepare their children for each school day and what changes the students could expect. Ideas about washing hands and glove/mask supplies was discussed.

Other questions regarded the curriculum-based learning. Potomac School has a learning model where students switch classes to learn at different curriculum levels.

Some questions came from students about what physical education (PE) class, lunch and recess would be like. Rouse explained PE will be spaced out with outdoor activities as much as possible. There will be no salad bar at lunch and each class will eat with their own class. Classes will remain within certain areas for recess, whether inside or outside, to try and prevent mingling.

During both the Aug. 10 and 11 meetings, teachers expressed their excitement to get back into their classrooms. On Aug. 19 they will fine-tune the rest of the school details for the Potomac Pioneers.

For more information on the Potomac Back to School plan visit the Potomac School District 11, Potomac, Montana Facebook page.

The next school board meeting is Sept. 14 at 7 p.m.


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