Montana's K-12 schools told to prepare for possible closures; SD2 nixes out-of-state travel
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Montana's K-12 schools told to prepare for possible closures; SD2 nixes out-of-state travel

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Summer lunch program

Dharma Speck, 6, reaches for a bag of carrots during the first day of the summer lunch program at Pioneer Park in Billings in June 2016. Montana officials applied for a waiver from U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools with summer food programs to use those to provide grab-and-go meals for kids instead of the usual cafeteria sit-down.

It's not just Montana universities that are taking coronavirus precautions.

The Office of Public Instruction told K-12 schools to have a plan for continuing classes in the event of a school closure because of a COVID-19 outbreak, through preparing either take-home coursework or online options.

State officials also applied for a waiver from U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools with summer food programs to use those to provide grab-and-go meals for kids instead of the usual cafeteria sit-down.

Montana has no coronavirus cases in the state, but harder-hit areas like Seattle, Ohio and Maryland have closed public schools.

School District 2 announced Friday morning that the district was suspending out-of-state travel for student groups, postponing indoor events open to the public, suspending staff travel for training and postponing in-district training events, and barring outside volunteers from district buildings. 

That doesn't include barring in-state travel for student activities or calling off outdoor events. Schools will continue to operate "in normal operating procedures, including transportation and food service."

OPI also told schools that the department could waive class time requirements for communities that suffer outbreaks, which would let schools off the hook for penalties or lost funding.

In a Friday update, OPI said that the state has submitted a waiver that could allow children to get school meals in the event of a school closure. An OPI spokesman said that any statewide school closure would be director by the Department of Health and Human Services or the Governor's office. 

"The Governor’s emergency declaration yesterday does not direct school closures at this time but OPI staff are in communication with the Governor’s Office as the situation evolves," the press release said. 

Federal officials also released guidance Thursday. Schools could have the option of getting a free pass if they miss required standardized testing because of an outbreak, and they could get a break on other federal accountability measures like attendance.

Billings Public Schools superintendent Greg Upham said that the district was evaluating actions to prevent the spread of the virus, but hadn't yet finalized its plans. The district is continuing to work with county health officials, he said.

Gov. Steve Bullock, during a press conference about coronavirus, said that there was not talk about closing K-12 schools "as of today, on Thursday."

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