Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, citing “the potential for extraordinary health risks from [the novel] coronavirus in our state,” on Sunday afternoon ordered public K-12 schools to close from March 16 until March 27 — a decision he said was made to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and not in response to an outbreak in schools.
The following day, Bullock said during a phone call with news media that he could not “give assurances” that schools would be reopened in two weeks.
Schools will “make arrangements to provide free meals to students who need them ... and to provide for all other matters and services that students need in the event of future or ongoing closure,” according to a statement from his office.
Come Monday morning, Jefferson County schools scrambled to determine how to make those arrangements and provisions.
Jefferson High School
“We’re looking at a bunch of different models” for delivering online instruction and course materials, Jefferson High School Superintendent Tim Norbeck told The Monitor soon after a meeting of faculty, staff and administrators.
Monday’s meeting was planned during a countywide school administrators’ meeting held Sunday morning prior to Bullock’s announcement. At first it was scheduled for 2 p.m. following the early dismissal of students and for staff to prepare for the potential of an extended closure. Following Bullock’s announcement making the closure real, the meeting was rescheduled for 7:30 a.m.
Teachers were tasked with settling on the best platform for delivering content, Norbeck said, while he explored with colleagues at Boulder Elementary, Clancy and Montana City schools how to distribute free and reduced-cost lunches — likely via a “grab and go” setup at schools or elsewhere, he said.
By noon, Jefferson High Principal Mike Moodry, in a letter posted to the school website, outlined guidelines that “will be in place for the next two weeks, then reevaluated if closures persist.”
“Students will be required to complete work during the closures to receive credit,” he wrote.
A weekly assignment list for all classes will be posted online and provided in a printout in the school office. Course materials will also be available online, though students with no or insufficient internet access can arrange to pick up the materials in the office either on a flash drive or in a printed work packet. In the latter two cases, students must arrange to pick up and drop off their materials.
Students who don’t have computers can check one out from the school by calling 406-225-3317. The school office will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment.
“All work will be submitted on a weekly basis unless otherwise arranged with the teacher,” Moodry wrote.
Moodry also asked that students email their teachers — an online list is at www.jhs.k12.mt.us/ForStaffOnly.aspx — and for students or parents to update their contact information at forms.gle/9qGQyp694ZKHdab86.
Despite the announcement of school closures arriving late on a Sunday, Norbeck said no students or parents showed up Monday morning expecting school to be opened as usual.
Later in the afternoon, the Montana High School Association announced that all spring activities — including practices, contests, meets and festivals — would be suspended until further notice.
The decision would be reevaluated April 13, according to a statement from MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman.
“If spring activities are resumed, the practice requirement for sports at that time will be five practices from resumption except for golf which will be the normal two practices required,” he wrote. “Post-season formats will be adjusted by conferences as necessary with MHSA approval.”
Boulder Elementary School
Maria Pace, Boulder Elementary’s principal and superintendent, said by email Tuesday morning that the school is working on a plan to get students coursework and access to online learning.
“Our teachers will be calling each family personally to set up remote learning,” she wrote. “Our priority during this time is to provide continuity of educational services: online, printed materials, telephone calls or other formats.”
The school also planneds to provide breakfasts and lunches during the school closure, she wrote.
Montana City School
Montana City School on Monday posted to its Facebook page that all parents would hear that day “from your child’s homeroom teacher or teacher advisor outlining suggested learning activities for the time our school is closed.”
The school announced that it would be closed until April 6, not March 27 as Gov. Bullock directed, due to spring break. “Montana City School - and all its facilities - will be closed to students and the public,” states a post to the school’s Facebook page.
Superintendent Tony Kloker told the Monitor on Tuesday that coursework for middle school students is being distributed through Google Classroom. "Teachers are posting videos to their classes, asking question prompts, and student can both complete and submit assignments electronically. Students also are able to ask questions to the teacher in a blog setting so the teacher can respond to the entire class or elect to email the student directly. Teachers are also using other online platforms to deliver content to students to practice skills during
their absence. Hard copy materials area also made available for students having no internet or limited internet access from home."
Elementary school teachers, Kloker said, have assembled "packets for students to practice skills taught earlier in the year to maintain continuity of those skills and
be proactive for students to return to school with skills in tact. Elementary teachers are communicating with parents via email, Seesaw, and classroom dojo."
The administrative team and a few other employees will be in the
building 8:00-4:30 each day. Parents have been asked to contact the district clerk via email if their child is in need of a breakfast and or lunch. The school also is reaching out to those students qualifying for free and reduced lunch services.
Clancy School announced on its website and Facebook page that, after allowing students to retrieve “any personal belongings or instruments” during normal school hours Monday and Tuesday, the school would close.
“There will be no activities, open gyms, group gatherings or any other use of the school facilities until further notice,” the notice states.
Students were told to expect work packets to be available for pickup from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, with junior high students told to “watch for electronic information from your teachers as well.”