HELENA – Montana public schools are mostly not taking Gov. Steve Bullock up on his offer to resume classes next week as the state relaxes its coronavirus restrictions, with some saying the risk is too great.
Schools have the option to return to in-classroom instruction on May 7, as long as social-distancing guidelines are followed. Districts can choose to continue distance learning, as well, Bullock announced last week.
The state Office of Public Instruction followed up on Wednesday with 11 pages of guidelines for schools to follow as they consider reopening.
But of the 63 schools and districts that had either contacted state public education officials directly or stated their intentions publicly as of Wednesday, all said they would continue their remote learning programs for the rest of the spring semester, according to data compiled by the Office of Public Instruction.
“We’re not aware of any schools at this time that are going to fully open,” agency spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said.
Schools in Glasgow and Libby said they would partially re-open just for students without internet access, while Troy schools planned to allow study halls for special education students.
In a letter to families, Helena School District Superintendent Tyler Ream said Wednesday said schools are “unprepared and inadequately resourced” to prevent the risk of transmitting the virus.
“It became apparent that our schools are not ready to physically reopen as there are a number of outstanding areas that would have exposed our students, employees and families to significant, known risks,” he wrote.
Montana began easing restrictions on Sunday, when Bullock’s statewide stay-at-home directive expired. People can gather in groups of less than 10, some churches held services and non-essential retail businesses were allowed limited re-openings starting Monday. Restaurants and bars can resume in-person service, at reduced capacity, next week.
He left the decision to local school boards whether to re-open after May 7. “We’ll support any district whether they decide to close the rest of the year or re-open in some partial or limited capacity,” Bullock said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Bullock said the decision for limited re-openings was possible because of the state’s aggressive response to the virus and its low infection rate.
The governor said state officials have set a goal of conducting 60,000 coronavirus tests a month, though he couldn’t say when that could be achieved. By comparison, 377 test results were received Tuesday, a rate that amounts to just over 11,000 a month.
Beginning next week, all Montana nursing home employees and willing residents will be tested, Bullock said. Additional testing will be conducted in tribal communities, he added.
There have been 451 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16 deaths in Montana, according to state health officials. Five people were hospitalized with the disease caused by the virus on Wednesday.
For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older people and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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