Students, Staff And Parents Adjust To No School
Plans Being Made For Longer Closure
March 25, 2020
*Editor's Note: After this article was written and published, Governor Steve Bullock extended the closure of all Montana K-12 schools until April 10.*
Students and school staff started their second week of unexpected time off on March 23 as a result of Governor Bullock's directive on March 15 closing all K-12 schools for two weeks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Since the Governor's announcement, confirmed cases in Montana have steadily risen, prompting other changes within the community including the closure of certain services and buildings as well as eliminating the ability to sit-down at local bars and restaurants. On March 23, Irle School closed public access to the school's playground while Glasgow Middle School also closed off the playground and walking path on premise to encourage social distancing.
As the situation is certainly uncharted territory for county school superintendents, fast action plans were created to ensure students are being taken care of. Frazer School allowed and continue to allow parents/guardians of students to pick up breakfast in the morning and lunch from noon to 1 p.m., at the school. Opheim School is providing grab and go breakfast and lunch delivered directly to students' homes.
Glasgow Schools created a grab-and-go breakfast/lunch station at Hoyt Park on March 17 and on March 23 established another location at Northern Heights for students living in that area. All children aged zero to 12th grade can stop by between 11 a.m. and noon to grab the meals, regardless of their free and reduced lunch status.
To help prevent the spread of the virus, Glasgow Superintendent Wade Sundby stresses everyone needs to take the necessary precautions while distributing and receiving the food. "We have a hand sanitizer station and people who are handling food wear gloves," stated Sundby. For students who live in St. Marie and are part of the Glasgow School district, the meals are brought to the community and distributed door-to-door.
Since the closure was so unexpected, Glasgow Schools opened the doors to all three schools on March 18 to allow students the opportunity to pick up items they would need for an extended time at home, such as coats, boots, textbooks, gym shoes, and even food that might have been left in lockers. To reduce the number of students and parents walking into the building at a time, each grade level had a designated time to come and grab what they needed.
Staff was also unprepared for the news of the two week closure, with some scambling to get packets ready to keep their students learning while others created online resources for students to access.
"As a music teacher, there are so many unknowns. The administration has done an excellent job trying to navigate the staff through the process," stated Irle Elementary music teacher Christine Gilchrist. Gilchrist, also a mother of three, credits teachers for their hard work. "Every educator I know is starting to prepare their students for online learning without trying to overwhelm students and parents," she stated. She does admit, the change in schedule is difficult. "As a parent, this is somewhat overwhelming. Parents that are now working from home and homeschooling, is a big task. I do think as everyone gets used to the online learning, it will get a little easier to navigate through," she said.
Irle Elementary second-grade teacher Denise Stutheit shares the sentiment. "This closure has been hard because my class kids become my kids. I miss them and worry about them. It's so much harder to check in on them and see how they are doing not only academically, but emotionally." She stressed she doesn't want parents to be overwhelmed but at the same time make sure children keep their skills fresh and continue learning. "Do a little math and reading every day. Get some exercise and fresh air. Stay in contact with your kids' teachers. We want to check in with you and your kids," she stated.
Parents Kim and Scott Redstone admit it's a crazy time for not only their children but for them too. "Our kids are going crazy, of course. And especially for us, it's difficult to help with homework/schoolwork because my husband and I have demanding jobs. We wish we could be home more to help with those things," stated K. Redstone. "It's a hard concept for the younger children to grasp, they don't completely understand the severity of the situation and the consequences if we don't stay inside and away from others."
According to Sundby, this week they are deep cleaning the schools and creating a plan for the future in the event students do not go back to school next week. "We need to have a plan in place and submit the plan by the end of business on Friday [March 27]," he stated. "The plan has to include how school will be ran, how students will get their meals, how we will provide service to students with disabilities and provide other services provided to students." In order to approve the plan for submission, the Glasgow School Board will be hosting a school board meeting before Friday, March 27.
According to a press release provided by Governor Bullock, schools do not have to make up the time lost as a result of the two-week closure he directed, and they will continue to receive all state payments for this time as budgeted by the Montana legislature. As of press time, it was unknown if the closure will go beyond March 27, however in the event it does, a district will not be required to reschedule the missed time if the district's board approves the district's plan/report. Waiver of all required in-person instruction hours is subject to the final approval of the Governor, in consultation with the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Presumptively, the Governor will approve waiver requests that are approved by school boards. Districts whose reports are approved will continue to receive all state funding.
In a letter sent to the staff, parents and community members on March 23, Sundby stated, "Teachers, principals and staff are working diligently to develop a plan as we move forward. This week is allowing teachers to plan and prepare for the next stage of our new learning platform that will start if the Governor continues to close schools, beginning March 30. Teachers have been asked to reach out to their students, whether that is through packets being sent home, internet, email or calls."
On Thursday, March 26, Glasgow Middle School, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and Irle Elementary from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., will be open to allow another opportunity for students to collect necessary items to continue education off-site, such as textbooks, Chromebooks and band instruments. Glasgow High School will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. to allow those students to grab what is necessary. In adherence to guidelines provided by the CDC and Dr. Anne Millard, when entering the school, there will be no more than 10 people in the building and people must stay 10 feet apart when getting the needed items.
In a conference call with county leaders on March 23, Sundby stressed that the schools were, "trying to do the best we can."