A few small Montana schools are among the first to reopen in the United States this week as the country gradually attempts to return to a state of normalcy following the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
Small public schools in Montana are reopening this week following Gov. Steve Bullock (D) giving schools the green light to reopen as early as May 7, although the final decision rests with local school districts. Montana schools have been closed since March.
While the majority will remain closed, a handful of small schools will reopen this week. Willow Creek School in Montana’s Gallatin County is among them. The school only has 56 students but will complete the remainder of the academic year — 2 1/2 weeks — in person. About a quarter of the students will remain at home, according to the superintendent.
“We polled our parents and 76 percent of the students will be coming back to school,” Willow Creek’s superintendent Bonnie Lower said, according to KBZK. “The parents have a choice to opt out and do the off-site learning.”
“They’ll continue with the packet learning or Zoom or speakerphone, whatever they have to do to be a part of the classroom,” Lower continued, adding that the school is “putting all of the safety measures that we possibly can into opening,” including the use of temperature checks and six-foot pool noodles to help ensure proper social distancing in the classroom.
According to NBC Montana, “School officials say they can safely do so because of the school’s small size.” Those who fail to abide by strict social distancing guidelines will be sent home, the outlet added.
Cohagen Elementary School, which has 14 students, will also reopen on Thursday, according to Garfield County School Superintendent Heather Gibson.
“We came up with a comprehensive plan to ensure that distancing was going to be possible,” Gibson said, according to CNN.
Additionally, the 14 students at that particular school all come from four families, making it “possible to maintain social distancing because the families that have been together can still be within six feet of each other,” Gibson noted.
Cooke City Elementary School, which has five students, according to NBC Montana, will also reopen.
Springhill School, Cottonwood School, and Pass Creek School — all in Gallatin County — are also moving toward reopening in some form this month, per CNN. All schools had “14 students each as of last October,” but even with small enrollment numbers, the rural schools are planning on taking extra precautions.
“And those kids are going to alternate days that they come in. So it’ll be half-day attendance,” Gallatin County Superintendent of Schools Matthew Henry said, adding that temperature checks will be instituted as well.
“Students who are considered vulnerable, at-risk population are given the option of attending or not,” he explained, adding that “if parents don’t feel comfortable, they’re allowed to continue to remote off-site learning.”
The vast majority of schools across the U.S. are closed for the remainder of the academic year.