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How the coronavirus closure will affect Great Falls Public Schools

Great Falls Public Schools
Posted at 8:52 PM, Mar 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-15 23:39:15-04

GREAT FALLS — Governor Steve Bullock on Sunday announced a set of directives and guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and protect vulnerable Montanans, including closing of public K-12 schools, social distancing measures, and limiting visitation at nursing home facilities.

Bullock has directed Montana’s public K-12 schools to close starting on Monday, March 16, and remain closed through March 27. During this time, schools will plan to provide arrangements to provide free meals to students who need them, pursuant to a waiver obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture, and to provide for all other matters and services that students need in the event of future or ongoing closure. Schools will continue to receive all state funding during this two-week closure.

The state will work with schools during this period to evaluate and consider next steps as needed. The decision to close schools is to slow the spread and is not in response to an outbreak in schools.

While school is out for the next two weeks, several changes will take place across the Great Falls Public Schools district.

GFPS Superintendent Tom Moore announced on Sunday evening that Great Falls Public Schools will be closed March 16th through March 27th, per Governor Bullock’s instruction. During the conference, Moore explained why Bullock felt the need to temporarily close schools in the first place: “ disperse folks and keep them from congregating in large places like schools where we have over ten thousand children. so that was the whole idea-to disperse. so we're going to try and follow those guidelines to the letter of the law.” Moore said.

While school is out for the next two weeks, several changes will take place across the district. In order to meet a wide range of students educational needs, primary and secondary education will have separate protocols for continuing education during this time.

Beginning Monday, teachers will call parents of elementary and ask whether they'd like to opt for an online or physical form of instruction. K through 6th grade Assistant Superintendent Ruth Uecker further explained the two alternatives.

“There’ll be an online option where they can go to the great falls public schools website, click on a button for elementary education, and it’ll take them to grade level specific activities..and if that’s something that’s not viable or an option for thatfa, we'll be able to put together packets to help support families’ instruction for the next couple of weeks,” Uecker said.

Grades 7th through 12th Assistant Superintendent heather Hoyer said middle and high schoolers will use an online system called Planbook to stay up to date with their coursework. “Our students and families are familiar with Planbook. It's something we’ve been using this year, where our teachers can link their google classroom as well as assignments to this platform,” Hoyer said.

To help with child care needs, there will be several facilities available for groups of up to 50 children. These child care options are reserved for first responders only, including members of Malmstrom Air Force Base and Montana Air National Guard. Some of those sites will include Loy elementary, Mountain View, Valley View, Sunnyside, Giant Springs, and Riverview Elementary schools.

The district will also provide food delivery service for students beginning Monday. families will have the option to accept lunch for that day and breakfast for the next. These changes will be updated on the GFPS website.

The GFPS Food Service Department will deliver food to the sites below each day that school is not is session beginning Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Delivery will include lunch for the day and breakfast for tomorrow. Please contact the GFPS Food Department with questions at 268-6047.

  • Valley View Elementary 900 Avenue A NW 11:00-11:20
  • Riverview Elementary 100 Smelter Ave NW 11:30-11:50
  • West Elementary 1205 1st Ave NW 11:25-11:45
  • Rhodes Park 812 Central Avenue W 11:00-11:20
  • West Kiwanis Park 723 1st Avenue NW 11:50-12:10
  • Great Falls High 1900 2nd Avenue N 12:00-12:20
  • Whittier Elementary 305 8th St N 1:25-11:45
  • Carter Park 611 3rd St S 11:00-11:15
  • Sunnyside Elementary 1800 19th St S 11:00-11:20
  • Charles Russell Park 1515 33rd St S 11:35-11:55
  • Paris Gibson Education Center 2400 Central Ave 12:00-12:20
  • Lewis and Clark Elementary 3800 1st Ave S 11:30-11:50
  • Morningside Elementary 4119 7th Avenue N 11:00-11:20

From the GFPS website:

  • Limited childcare will be provided strictly for first responders to include Law Enforcement, EMS, Firefighters, Emergency and Medical Staff also including long-term care facilities. Childcare is to be limited to children of these providers under the age of 12. The buildings being utilized for childcare services are as follows: Chief Joseph, Lewis & Clark, Lincoln, Meadow Lark, Morningside, Mountain View, Loy, Sacajawea, Valley View, Riverview, Whittier, West, Sunnyside and Giant Springs Elementary.
  • The hours of operations will begin Tuesday, March 17 from 6:45 am to 6 pm. Children will be screened for wellness by nursing staff upon entry to buildings. Parents will enter through one main door at the elementary. The number will be limited to 50 children per school to meet criteria of small group gatherings per the CDC.
  • Parents please be prepared to show employee ID as well as government issued ID. Phone number to call for questions 406-268-6775 or 406-268-6006.
  • Parents should provide lunch for the child for the first day, Tuesday, March 17. School staff will provide updates on the ability to provide food on subsequent dates.
  • Family Connections will take calls regarding younger than elementary aged children whose families have been impacted. Their phone number is 406-761-6010

NOTE: MTN News does not have all of the information about how this will affect communities across the region in this developing situation, as new information is being released almost hourly from many sources; we are working diligently to get more information and will keep you updated as we get details.

To mitigate the impact of school closures on families, Bullock encourages all employers to be generous with their employee sick and paid leave policies during this time.

Bullock also is "strongly recommending" that the public limits all gatherings, especially those more than 50 people, in every community across the state. Bullock is also recommending that people over the age of 60 or who are immunocompromised or with chronic health conditions do not participate in gatherings of more than 20 people. He also recommends that parents should avoid, if possible, placing children for childcare with grandparents or individuals over the age of 60 or immunocompromised persons.

Visitation in Montana’s nursing homes is suspended except for certain compassionate care situations. People who meet the exception for visitation will undergo a screening to determine whether they have traveled in the last two weeks, are residing where community spread is occurring, or if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

In addition to taking part in regular briefing calls with the country’s governors and the White House, Governor Bullock has consulted with doctors and other public health authorities and school leaders to develop efforts to prevent spread of COVID-19 in Montana.

(SATURDAY, MARCH 14) Governor Steve Bullock on Saturday said in a news release that two presumptively positive cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, have been confirmed in Missoula County. The two cases are a woman in her 30s, and a man in his 50s

No other information about the two patients has been released at this point. The tests, conducted by the DPHHS Public Health Laboratory, were confirmed Saturday evening. As is current standard, test results are considered presumptively positive and will be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The two Missoula County cases announced on Saturday bring the total number of cases of COVID-19 in Montana to six (see note below), after four were announced on Friday. There were four positive cases announced on Friday in the counties of Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow, and Broadwater.

  • The Gallatin patient is a man in his 40s; recovering at home; acquired through international travel
  • The Yellowstone patient is a woman in her 50s; recovering at home; rcquired through international travel
  • The Silver Bow patient is a man in his 50s; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state
  • The Broadwater patient is a man in his 50s who sought care in Lewis and Clark County; recovering at home; acquired domestically in affected areas out of state

The patients have been isolated in accordance with public health guidelines. People who came into close contact with them will be monitored for 14 days for fever and respiratory symptoms per CDC guidance. Public health officials are following up to learn more details about the two individual’s exposure risk, travel history, and to identify and communicate with anyone who may have been in close contact with the patients.

The City-County Health Department in Great Falls said on Saturday that all the COVID-19 tests that Cascade County sent to the state lab as of Friday, March 13, have come back negative. At this time, there are NO confirmed cases in Cascade County.

NOTE: In addition to the six confirmed cases actually IN Montana, there is a seventh Montanan confirmed to have COVID-19. That person, from Lake County, is a part time Montana resident with no documented exposures or close contacts in Montana, and was not tested in Montana. She was tested and diagnosed in Maryland, where she currently is residing.