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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana School Districts Detail Their Preparation For Coronavirus

CDC School closure decision tree.
Centers For Disease Control
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CDC School closure decision tree.

Public K-12 schools across Montana sent out letters detailing their preparation for the coronavirus Friday following Gov. Steve Bullock’s state of emergency declaration Thursday.

Officials are telling schools to create a plan for potential closures and remote learning. After this story published, Gov. Bullock announced that four cases of the novel coronavirus have tested presumptively positive in Montana.

On a conference call regarding the COVID-19 illness, the Montana Office of Public Instruction told school administrators to plan out how school closures could work.

"A lot of members of the public, we’re getting calls here, they want to know why schools aren’t already closed down," OPI spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier said. "And to be honest, there is an appropriate time to close schools down and it’s a really tight window there of when to close them down.”

Klapmeier explains that only school districts, local and state health authorities and the governor can close down schools. Klapmeier says for the time being, those decisions are being left up to local districts and public health authorities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on school closures Friday saying schools should begin to consider closures after a confirmed case shows up in a school facility or impacts students and staff. Local health authorities are echoing that advice to schools. School districts say they’re getting ready.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction has received a waiver from the federal government so schools can send kids home with food or not have lunch in a centralized location.

Columbia Falls School District is working out how free and reduced lunches would be delivered to the roughly 45 percent of students who use the program if the district was to close. But Superintendent Steve Bradshaw says he’s more concerned about internet access for remote learning.

"If we go online, it’s not going to help kids who don’t have internet access or the ability to use a device. We’re trying to figure out how many of those kids [there] are and what we can do to help them get there.”

Bradshaw says the district is contacting internet providers about pricing for internet enabled devices. Charter announced Friday that it will provide up to 60 days of internet service to households with K-12 or college students. But rural districts like Bradshaw’s will still need to find a way to deliver physical learning materials to students living in areas with no internet access.

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