Re-opening Montana Schools Guidance

The Re-opening Montana Schools Guidance provides non-regulatory resources for Montana schools to use in conjunction with their own plans for the new school year and includes the areas of:

  • Safe physical environments.
  • Academic programming.
  • Social-emotional support.
  • Flexibilities within state rules and statute.
  • School nutrition.
  • Special education.

Additional Guidance


Montana is a local control state. Local school boards and local health departments have the legal authority to determine how schools will operate in light of the COVID-19 outbreak unless overridden by directives from the Governor. Your school or district should be your first point of contact regarding services your school or district is offering at this time, or if you have questions or concerns regarding those services.  

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding School Reopening




Academics & Distance Learning

Academic Programming Re-opening Montana Schools Guidance

Use the accordion below to read more about Academic Programming recommendations for each scenario. Guidance below is from the Re-opening Montana Schools Guidance document. 

Fall 2020 OPI and Montana Partners Community Virtual Sharing Sessions

During the spring of 2020, the OPI offered Remote Learning Sharing sessions as a place for educators, admin and school staff to collaborate and share ideas for our remote teaching settings. We are excited to continue many of these sessions throughout the Fall of 2020. Check out our calendar of OPI and Montana Partners Upcoming Community Virtual Sharing Sessions.Join a one-hour session to collaborate and discuss ideas for this fall with other Montana educators and staff.

Planning for Learning This Fall 

As we enter into an unprecedented fall, the OPI is here to support districts, schools, and educators. With thousands of resources available at educators fingertips, we have curated a list of planning resources and documents. We hope these resources help support you in your work this summer and into the coming fall for planning for academic success for all students. Equity for all Montana students is essential. All resources have been selected because of their attention to equitable access to a high-quality education. 

Assessing Student Readiness

Below is a collection of free resources for assessing students at the beginning of the year and throughout the year to help guide instructional priorities for all students. 

Professional Learning Related to Remote Learning 

Remote, blended or remodeled in-person learning requires additional professional learning. We have updated and curated a variety of high-quality professional learning opportunities for educators and educational leadership. Some are links to online courses while others may be upcoming webinars and or recordings. 

Montana Specific Support 

We are lucky to have many excellent partners in education. Below is a shortlist of our Montana-based partners in education. Please feel free to reach out to the partners as needed.  


The US Department of Education has approved the OPI’s request to waive requirements for the 2019-2020 school year assessment, accountability, and reporting for states and local education agencies under ESSA. 

The Montana Waivers site shares information on the waivers, as well as how you can share your comments

Please see the Assessment FAQ for the latest assessment information.

Pupil Transportation

Governor's CRF Pupil Transportation Relief Fund Information


School Bus Evacuations


Here are the Guidelines:

  • School bus evacuations must be conducted at least twice per school year and must include all students, whether they ride to and from school, or not.
  • The first bus evacuation must be held within the first two weeks of school.
  • The second bus evacuation must be within the first week of the second semester.
  • All students must practice evacuation drills since they may ride a school or activity bus sometime during the school year. 
  • All evacuation drills should be conducted the same way each time so students know exactly what to expect. They need to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, and what it feels like so there are no surprises during a real emergency. 
Additional information and procedures for school bus evacuations can be found in the 2018 Montana School Bus Standards, page 61. 
Questions? Contact Donell Rosenthal, Director of Pupil Transportation, 406-444-3024.

School Finance

CARES Act & School Emergency Relief Funds

Under the Cares Act, Montana schools will receive federal emergency funds to help school districts respond to the impact of COVID-19 through the following types of support:


  • State SEA (The OPI) School Emergency Relief Fund - $41.295 million available to Montana

OPI must distribute 90% based on the Title I formula for FY 2019 and Superintendent Arntzen is providing the remaining 10% to all operating EL/HS districts to ensure that Districts that are not Title 1 receive a minimum of $10,000.

USED has issued an Interim Final Rule regarding the Equitable Services provision of ESSER funds. The Interim Final Rule issued today gives districts two options:

  • Continue with Equitable Services based on total non-public enrollment with flexible use of the funds for preparing for, responding to, or recovering from COVID-19

  • Calculate the funds for equitable services based on the total number of low-income students in Title I and participating private schools; or calculate the funds using the LEA’s Title I, Part A share from the 2019-2020 school year. If an LEA uses one of the low-income student options, the LEA must not violate the Title I supplement-not-supplant requirement in section 1118(b)(2) of the ESEA. That is, LEAs cannot divert state or local funds from its Title I schools because they receive CARES Act funds.

If districts wish to continue with Option 1, no additional action is required. If districts decide to use ESSER funds as Title I funds (option 2), please email Jay Phillips (Operations Director) and CC Jack O’Connor (Title I Director) and they will assist you with your E-Grants application.


  • Additionally, Superintendent Arntzen is using a portion of the 10% state set-aside to provide $3 million in Special Education support.
  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund - $8.765 million available to Montana
    • The nature of this funding will be determined by the Governor's Office and K-12 and higher education are eligible. 
  • Federal Education Stabilization Fund - $307.5 million available nationwide
    • This funding will provide direct grants to those states that are most impacted by COVID-19.
  • Federal Save School and Citizenship Education (“Project SERV”) - $100 million available nationwide   

Cares Act Preliminary Financial Guidance Recorded Webinar


School Finance Questions & Concerns

School Nutrition

New! USDA Flexibilities to Allow SFSP Until as Late as December 31, 2020

On August 31, 2020 USDA extended multiple nationwide Summer Food Service Program waivers. These extensions mean that districts operating USDA Child Nutrition Programs may have options for feeding students up until as late as December 31, 2020. 

  • Districts may be able to choose to operate the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Please note that each program has different regulations and meal counting/claiming requirements. Districts must have an approved MAPS agreement with OPI School Nutrition Programs to operate and claim meals for either program.
  • The first step for districts interested in operating the SFSP is to complete the School Year SFSP Form. Once this form is submitted, you will receive a call from your regional specialist to determine next steps.
  • Free and Reduced-Price School Meal Application and Direct Certification
    • Continue to collect free and reduced-price school meal applications and check for eligible students in the Direct Certification (DCA) System.
    • Although districts have the option to operate SFSP, it is important to continue collecting income eligibility information.
  • SFSP Area Eligibility
    • The Summer Food Service Program Area Eligibility waiver was extended by the USDA until December 31. This means that school sites that are not located in typically eligible locations can apply for the waiver.
    • The State agency may approve an area eligibility waiver request from a school if there is a demonstrated need, such as an increase in children eligible for benefits due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The OPI School Nutrition Programs will provide more guidance as soon as possible. We look forward to working with program operators to provide meals in a safe and accessible manner, either through the NSLP or the SFSP. Please contact your regional specialist with questions.

School Nutrition Back-To-School Flexibilities Survey

June 25, 2020 – USDA released the following 5 nation-wide waivers for School Year 2020-2021. These waivers are for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. 

  1. Non-congregate Feeding in the Child Nutrition Programs - EXTENSION #2
  2. Meal Service Time Flexibility in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Child and Adult Care Food Program - EXTENSION #2
  3. Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children - EXTENSION #2
  4. Meal Pattern Flexibility in the Child Nutrition Programs - EXTENSION #4
  5. Offer versus Serve Flexibility for Senior High Schools in the National School Lunch Program for School Year 2020-2021. 

USDA Extends Flexibilities for Summer Food Service Program until September 30, 2020

Social, Emotional & Behavioral

  • Find information on serving students using the Whole School, Whole Community, and Whole Child Approach on the School Mental Health page
  • OPI's Special Education COVID 19 information page provides the most current guidance, resources, and tools on serving those with special needs. 
    • Questions about serving students with disabilities can be sent to:

Other FAQ's & Guidance