Are children required to return to school? Are schools required to have an online learning option?
School districts are currently developing plans for a safe return to school this fall. Because Montana is a local control state, these decisions are made at the local school district level and mandated by the school board. Both the Governor's Office and Office of Public Instruction strongly recommend local school districts have an online learning option in their reopening plan.
The Governor's Office and Office of Public Instruction both published school re-opening guidance with this recommendation. OPI's "Reopening Montana Schools Guidance" can be found here. The "Governor's Plan for Reopening Safe and Healthy Schools for Montana" can be found here.
Can school districts provide remote learning to out-of-district students?
Yes, the July 31 directive waives current residency requirements to allow school districts to provide educational services at an offsite instructional setting, including the provision of services through electronic means, to any pupil who (a) meets the residency requirements for that district as provided in § 1-1-215, MCA; (b) resides in the same county as the district; or (c) resides in a school district immediately adjacent to the district.
Are schools going to have money for all the necessary PPE & supplies needed to open in the pandemic? Where is the money coming from?
Schools have been awarded $41 million through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, as well as $75 million through the Governor’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. This funding should help schools purchase PPE. Additionally, Governor Bullock asked Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) to secure bulk PPE for schools, in addition to the PPE they should be purchasing for their own safety efforts.
How do I sign up for home schooling?
For information on homeschooling, please contact your county superintendent.
The Office of Public Instruction has more information on homeschooling here.
Are masks mandated in schools?
The July 15 Directive providing for the mandatory use of face coverings in certain settings is hereby amended to require the use of face coverings, as detailed in that directive, in all public and private K-12 schools in counties with four or more active cases. All provisions set forth in the July 15 Directive apply to public and private K-12 schools.
Indoor school spaces are considered indoor spaces open to the public.
School-related outdoor activities are considered organized outdoor activities.
All provisions of the July 15 Directive remain in effect except as expressly amended by this Directive.
The full directive is here.
What COVID-19 protocols are Montana Universities taking?
Montana University System campuses are implementing a broad range of measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including requiring face coverings, social distancing, additional cleaning protocols, installation of hand-sanitizing and washing stations, education campaigns, and many other actions. The Montana University System also has established a strategic and targeted system for rapid testing, contact tracing and quarantine/isolation to prevent single cases from growing into clusters and preventing clusters from growing into larger outbreaks.
Each MUS campus has links to comprehensive COVID-19 information and resources on its homepage. Links to each can be found here [mus.edu]. In addition, the Montana University System website [mus.edu] features system-level COVID-19-related announcements and resources for students, faculty and staff.
Links to additional information:
If children in a school are socially distanced and in seats, can they remove their face coverings?
On August 12, Governor Bullock extended the July 15 Directive requiring face coverings in certain indoor and outdoor settings to include public and private k-12 schools. The August 12 Directive requires students and staff to wear face coverings in all areas of the school. While children are encouraged to wear face coverings at all times, schools may allow children to remove their face coverings if they are seated and socially distanced in a classroom. This is a narrow allowance. Social distancing is defined as having 6 feet of spacing from any other person—in other words, this flexibility is permissible only where such spacing is strictly observed. Doing so may require reduced classroom capacity. The flexibility described here applies only to classrooms where social distancing can occur and when children are seated at their desks. If a teacher is working one on one with a student, both teacher and student must wear a face covering. If students are working in small groups, they must be wearing face coverings.
The flexibility described here is only available where county health departments have not instituted more stringent requirements. Local officials and individual school districts may impose more restrictive requirements as they deem appropriate for local circumstances. Here is the relevant language, reproduced in both the July 15 and August 12 Directives: “In the interest of uniformity of laws and to prevent the spread of disease, all inconsistent local government health ordinances or orders are preempted by this Directive, but only to the extent they are less restrictive. Counties, cities, and towns may adopt more restrictive ordinances.”
Would homeschool co-ops (small groups of homeschool families that are signed up ahead of time for courses) be required to wear masks?
Children who are homeschooled in the privacy of their own home are not subject to the Governor’s August 12th Directive. When students come together in alternative settings they are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings. The Directive extends the mandatory use of face coverings to all public and private school settings in counties with four or more active COVID-19 cases.
Do teachers fall under the public speaking exception for wearing a face covering?
Section 4 of the mask directive provides exceptions for, “Businesses, government offices, other persons responsible for indoor spaces open to the public, and sponsors of organized outdoor activities are not required to ensure the following individuals wear face coverings… persons giving a speech or engaging in an artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical performance for an audience, provided the audience is separated by at least six feet of distance”.
A student or teacher giving a presentation and socially distanced by at least six feet from others would qualify under this exception.
How should school districts handle recess time?
The Governor’s July 15 Directive states that organized outdoor activities are defined as any gathering of 50 or more people for an activity or event organized or sponsored by a business or person, or that takes place on the property of a business or person. The Governor’s August 12 Directive to include schools clarifies that school-related outdoor activities are considered organized outdoor activities. A gathering of less than 50 people would not be subject to the Directive, though we strongly encourage the use of face coverings when social distancing is not possible. In all other school settings, face coverings are required unless an exception from the July 15 Directive applies (e.g., consuming food, strenuous physical activity, etc.)
Who should families with students with disabilities reach out to for questions on face covering exceptions in schools?
Families should work with local public health officials and local school boards to determine alternate accommodations for students who either cannot or will not wear a face covering in school. The Governor’s July 15 Directive provides exceptions for:
- Persons seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired
- Persons who have a medical condition precluding the safe wearing of a face covering
If accommodations cannot be made and individuals are unable to comply with requirements necessary for safe operation, individuals should consult their local school board. Under the Governor’s Directive, local jurisdictions, including public health officials and school boards, have the authority to be more restrictive if they so choose. Local public health officers, who understand the needs and circumstances of their communities, are often better positioned to make these decisions in consultation with local elected officials, health experts, and school board members.
Are college students being counted on the Montana COVID-19 cases map, even if they aren't residents of Montana?
Montana college students who test positive for COVID-19 are counted in the overall state numbers and in the county where he/she attends school.
Is there a protocol in place if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a school?
Yes. Please click here for the Governor's Office protocol released on 9.9.2020.
How will I know if there are COVID-19 positive cases in my child's school?
The Department of Public Health and Human Services will post demographic information about positive COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools and at universities every Wednesday (and occasionally more frequently if there is a major event). You can find that information here.
Is my child's identity and health information public safe if the state is posting information about COVID-19 cases in schools?
Yes. The information provided by public health officials does not publicly display health data about individual children or staff. It simply provides parents, teachers, and the interested public with general information if there are positive cases associated with a school. For schools with over 50 students, both the number of students positive and the number of staff positive will be shared along with the name of the school and in which county the school is in. For schools with between 11 and 50 students, the number of students and staff tested positive will be shared, but it will not distinguish between students or staff. For schools with 10 or fewer students, there will be no reporting in order to ensure the protection of individual privacy.
Why doesn’t the school data that DPHHS is posting match the information posted on my county health department website?
DPHHS is posting updated school data online by 5 p.m. every Wednesday. The data represents cases reported from the previous week through Friday. Some counties may update their website more often, so it’s likely the numbers will not match in every situation. The DPHHS school data is posted here: https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusmt/demographics