The Missoula County Public School board made the decision on Friday keep students in distance learning through the end of the school year.

Superintendent Rob Watson held a press conference via ZOOM to answer questions from the media.

“Today, they met at noon in a special board meeting to make the final decision,” said Watson. “They voted unanimously to continue the closure of our school buildings and to continue remote learning through the remainder of our school year. With that knowledge it helps us do a little more planning in terms what the rest of the school year looks like, but also for planning and preparation for next fall.”

Watson said there would be significant complications from the Missoula City County Health Department if the board had decided to reopen the schools.

“The County Health Department said if the schools were going to reopen on May 7th, there would be a couple of protocols that would have to be in place,” he said. “Number one, we would have to have screening for all individuals, both teachers and students that were coming into the building. Number two, we would have to have the nursing staff or medically trained staff on hand in our buildings to do that screening because the health department wasn’t able to support schools in a district our size in helping with that screening. The last thing is that we’ve have to make sure that the teachers had seating charts for their classrooms for contact tracing after the fact.”

A question was asked about what the school district would do for parents who could no longer stay at home for child care and for distance learning once fall classes have begun.

“We already partnered with the YMCA to open up a child care center at Russell School,” he said. “That child care center was opened up for healthcare workers and first responders. We can expand that. The YMCA has been more than interested in expanding that. We can replicate that sort of thing at a different location, such as one of our other schools.”

Watson was asked how schools could open in the fall if there was no COVID 19 vaccine yet available.

“I do believe that if there is no vaccine in the fall, and it doesn’t sound like there will be, that we will be back at this same decision in the fall, asking ourselves are the risks low enough at this point that we can open up partially, or stagger the opening,” he said. “I do believe that in the fall we’re still going to having this discussion with our board about what makes sense for our community and our district to keep kids safe but still try to get into that school routine.”

Watson said regarding school sports such as football and basketball, that the Montana High School Association will be making those decisions in the summer.