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OPI recommends extending distance learning through the end of the current school year

Posted at 11:41 AM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 11:02:55-04

GREAT FALLS — Montana education leaders are recommending that public school districts in Montana extend distance learning through the end of the current school year, and not conduct large in-person graduation ceremonies.

Governor Steve Bullock's stay-at-home order and school closures are currently scheduled to run through Friday, April 24th. However, the Governor could again extend those order based on advice from public health experts.

MARCH 15: Bullock directs closure of public K-12 schools in Montana

The recommendations come in a letter sent by the Office of Public Instruction, the Board of Public Education, and the Montana Public Education Center to county and district superintendents.

The letter cites national health authority recommendations that social distancing guidelines be in place through May and possibly into the summer.

According to the letter, the recommendations on extending distance learning and for holding graduation alternatives, or postponing them until later in the year, aim to provide guidance for planning the remainder of the academic year and for ensuring student achievements are recognized.

An email from OPI states: 'If the Governor’s “Stay At Home” and “School Closure” orders are not extended through the remainder of the school year, of course, local districts are welcome to proceed however they would like as Montana is a local control state. However, we cannot imagine a scenario where social distancing will not be recommended or required in the months of May, June, or even further into the summer, making traditional graduation ceremonies and traditional moves back into classrooms unlikely."

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear District and County Superintendents,

We are writing to offer guidance as you plan for school year-end activities including graduation ceremonies. At this time, the Governor is making public policy decisions in two-week timeframes based on the best available advice from public health officials. As school leaders, we know that you would like additional certainty in planning the rest of your academic year.

At this time, national health authorities are stating that social distancing recommendations will be in place at least through May and possibly into the summer. We can expect that even if the Governor’s “Stay At Home” and “School Closure” directives are lifted after April 24th, that social distancing guidelines will still be recommended.

Therefore, we advise that you plan to continue your distance learning plans through the remainder of this school year and also plan to not hold large-scale in-person graduation ceremonies. We encourage you to postpone graduation ceremonies until later in the year or come up with alternative plans to honor your graduates, ensuring equity in recognition for all students, including special education students.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Elsie Arntzen, Superintendent of Public Instruction
Darlene Schottle, Board of Public Education
Kirk Miller, School Administrators of Montana
Lance Melton, Montana School Boards Association
Dennis Parman, Montana Rural Education Association
Eric Feaver, Montana Federation of Public Employees
Dianne Burke, Montana Quality Education Coalition
Denise Williams, Montana Association of School Business Officials