Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson sent out a very lengthy email to families yesterday to address what back to school might look like next month. I know, NEXT MONTH, I was going to say "this fall," but it's next month. Barf, right?

The part I found most helpful was the explanation of what schedules may look like once school begins. Naturally, parents are concerned about kids having to wear a mask all day, and about how they can confidently send their students to school during a worldwide pandemic. Here is the draft so far, and the email really stressed the word DRAFT, that will continue to change and be updated throughout the next few weeks.

  • With group size being more restrictive under phase 1, we would have only half of the students at school on any given day.  We are suggesting A-L on Monday, Tuesday and M-Z on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Under phase 2, where the restrictions on group size increase, we are suggesting that all students would attend every day.  However, we are also recommending a partial day schedule, 8:25-2pm for K5, 8-1:30pm for MS, and 10-3:30pm for HS.  These times are an estimate and dependent on the bus schedule.
  • In addition, guidance suggests that we need to limit the mixing of students under both phase 1 and phase 2.  That will mean block scheduling in Middle School and High School.  We are considering an intensive block, where students would attend no more than two classes each day.  Each class would be longer than a typical class period and students would attend those two classes for multiple weeks before moving to the next classes.  We have been exploring several models for the intensive block and will release final schedule options in the coming weeks.

We are currently in Phase 2 here in Montana, but considering that we are seeing around 100 or more new COVID-19 cases per day consistently, the report included plans in the event that our state reverts back to Phase 1. As far as face masks, they will be required for students older than 12, a plan for the younger kids is still being discussed by the school board.

Personally, I'm a fan of less hours and longer time blocks of classes. I feel like teenage brains need the extra sleep, and forcing them to get up early is counterproductive for the learning process. As far as it helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19, I suppose I'd be OK with sending my teenager to school with these safety guidelines. Here's the thing though, especially regarding grade school. If parents have to work and have no other choice, some of them are going to send their COVID infected kids to school. It's already happening at daycares across the country, we'd be foolish to believe that it won't happen here. Are the kids going to have to do a temperature check every time they enter the school? So many questions left to ponder in the next few weeks.

Will there be an option for kids to continue distance learning, for those who did well with it? Perhaps, considering that the parent survey that was sent out in June asked several questions about how families coped with distance learning and if it was successful for them. The full results of the survey are here. The school staff survey showed that 92% of teachers and school district employees are very concerned about how the coronavirus will impact their schools, and that 68% feel confident that they can safely return to work next month. See the full staff survey results here.

Whatever happens, it will most certainly not be your typical back to school routine this year. The U of M is standing by their decision to allow students on campus with enforcement of the masks required policy. Currently, college is set to be back in session starting on August 15th, with plans for school district #1 to get back to learning on August 26th, with high school sophomores, juniors and seniors starting on August 27th.