Around 3 p.m. this afternoon, Missoula County Public School's Superintendent, Rob Watson, sent out voice mails and emails to direct families to the following information. It's A LOT of info to look through, so I will tell you the part, as a parent, I found most helpful, was that all school gatherings and activities are suspended, cancelled or postponed through April. School closures following Spring Break will be decided on a school by school basis. A "School Decision Tree" was included as a guide to show how school closure decisions will be made, you can see it at the bottom of this article.

Dear MCPS Families,

First, I would thank everyone for their patience as we work through the quickly evolving COVID-19 virus.  The safety of our students and staff is always our top priority. Please keep in mind that things are changing by the hour.

As you know, COVID-19 is an evolving issue and we are responding to what we know today.  We will likely change our response over time. None of our decisions are made in a vacuum.  We have been in close consultation with our state and local officials regarding our decisions and we will continue to do so.  We are also examining guidance from the CDC.

Restrictions in place March 23- April 30

Based on advice from the Missoula City/County Health Department and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)we will increase our restrictions in the following ways starting March 23, when we return from spring break.

Each of these guidelines will begin on March 23 and will be in effect for March and April.  We will reassess these decisions for May and June.

  • We will suspend, cancel or postpone all out-of-state, school sponsored travel for both students and staff for March and April.  We will reassess for May and June.  We are also looking at in-state travel on a case-by-case basis at this time.
  • In an effort to stem the growth of the virus among potentially sensitive groups in the community, we will suspend, cancel or postpone all school sponsored activities that involve members of our community in attendance for March and April and reassess for May and June.  This would mean concerts, plays, our Native Youth Pow Wow or other activities that bring together community members with staff and students.  This may also impact activities or competitions governed by the Montana High School Association, but we will wait to receive guidance from MHSA regarding spring sports.
  • We will suspend, cancel or postpone school sponsored, during the school day, or afterschool gatherings that bring together large groups of students and staff, unless necessary for the function of the school.  For example, delivery of our school lunch program or administration of the ACT may still require that we have larger groups of students together in one location.  For events that are not necessary to the function of the school, we will ask our staff to consider alternatives to break students into smaller groups when possible or reschedule events to a later date.

Please know that these steps are not taken lightly.  In many cases students and staff have worked hard to plan and participate in school activities.  We understand that everyone will be impacted by these decisions, but we are taking these necessary steps to help slow down the spread of this disease, not only for our schools, but also our community.

Possible school closure

We will follow the guidance of the Missoula City / County Health Department (MCCHD), the Office of Public Instruction, the Governor's office and the CDC.  (Please see the attached flow chart from CDC that will help guide our decisions regarding school closure. We are currently in the “No Community Spread” category.)

We understand that there are those in our community who would like to see full District closure at this time, before the first confirmed case.  We know that this type of action can help to slow down the transmission of this virus. At this time, there has been no order nor recommendation for full District closure, either from the Governor’s office or the local health department.  In addition, full District closure is not recommended under the CDC guidance, given the current status of spread in our community. We know that this outbreak is evolving quickly and advice may change in the coming days or weeks. We have been discussing school closure with our staff and Board of Trustees and we will be ready for that contingency.

When there is a confirmed case at any school, staff or student, we may establish a short-term closure procedures, based on advice from our local health department.  Under this protocol: the school where there is a confirmed case would be closed for a period of 2-5 days.  The purpose of this closure would be to clean the school and provide time for the MCCHD to identify close contacts and establish protocols around school exclusion for some students or staff.  This is similar to exclusion protocols that we have experienced with Pertussis.

Make decisions that are right for your family

In absence of school or District closure, parents may always make their own decisions regarding school attendance and keeping children at home.  If parents call in to excuse the students from school, the student absence will be considered an excused absence. Teachers will do their best to provide homework or handouts as they would with any student who is absent from school.

What we are already doing to meet CDC guidelines

We continue to follow the guidelines of the public health community in making decisions for our school district. Here are some steps we have taken to prepare as a school district based on those recommendations:

  • We established a district response team to help with communication and processes.
  • We increased communication and collaboration around the evolving issues with community and state partners: Missoula City/County Health Department, UM, City / County officials, AA Superintendents, Office of Public Instruction.
  • We have encouraged staff and students to stay home when sick.
  • We focused on hand washing protocols and systems for wiping down frequently touched surfaces.
  • We asked teachers to begin to prepare learning management systems for remote or online learning in anticipation of school closures.
  • We have planned for delivery of student services in the event of closure, like school lunch and discussed other services that will need to be delivered in event of closure.

Thanks again for your patience.  We will be updating families and our COVID-19 website over break, please stay tuned for any updates.  If you have a question or comment, we have established a form on our COVID website where you can submit your comment.  These comments will be shared with our response team.

If you have medical questions about COVID-19, please contact your health care provider or the Missoula City County Health Department at 258-INFO (258-4636).
Thank you,

Rob Watson

Superintendent

MCPS