As we kick off the new school year, I am incredibly proud of Montana’s students, families, and educators. When I talk with my fellow parents, grandparents, and teachers, the theme of optimism is strong. Despite the unprecedented circumstances facing education during the COVID-19 pandemic, all Montanans want to see our children receive the world-class education that they deserve. I am confident that by working together, we will achieve success for Montana students.
As a public school teacher in Billings for 23 years, I looked forward to seeing my students’ smiling faces in the classroom each new school year. Whether it is in the classroom or through a computer screen, I know that Montana’s teachers have been eagerly waiting to see their students as the new school year is starting across our state.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) has been working diligently all summer to ensure that families and schools have the resources and flexibility that they need to be successful this fall. The Reopening Montana Schools webpage will continue to be the best source for the latest information from the OPI: OPI.MT.GOV/Re-opening-Schools.
Some of the waivers that I have secured are school nutrition flexibility from the USDA to allow non-congregate meals, grab-and-go meals, and mealtime flexibility. I have also achieved a waiver from the Governor to allow out-of-district students to get distance learning services and funding from the state Coronavirus Relief Fund to support additional school bus routes. From the Montana Board of Public Education, I secured an extension for teachers applying for licenses and I am requesting the Board provide additional accreditation, licensure, and educator preparation flexibility.
Safety must be our top priority as we reopen schools. Over the summer, I brought together nearly a hundred Montanans from diverse backgrounds to draft guidance for schools and families. These task forces included parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and public health officials. I also ensured that Montana was one of the first states in the nation to get our federal COVID-19 relief funds out to schools to purchase necessary personal protective equipment, sanitation supplies, and technology.
Physical safety isn’t the only goal; we must ensure that our students' social-emotional and mental health needs are supported. The OPI recently partnered with the Montana Healthcare Association to beef up our state’s youth mental health resources. Our students have to have a sense of hope before academic success can occur.
To Montana’s students, families, and educators, stay strong! We believe in you and are here to support you through the 2020-2021 school year and beyond.