Keeping Students Safe & Healthy


NEW! CDC's Summary of Recent Changes to Operation of Schools During COVID-19*


  • Physical distancing now recommended at 3ft between students in classrooms.
  • ventilation can be part of a strategy to clean and maintain healthy facilities.
  • Removed recommendation for physical barriers.

*Published as of March 19, 2021 Review the full Operational Strategy for K–12 Schools through Phased Prevention.

Montana's COVID Page

• Specific Area Guidance •

Academics & Remote Learning

Academic Programming Re-opening Montana Schools Guidance  

2021 Summer Learning & Enrichment: State Guidance for District and School Leaders 

The 2021 Summer Learning & Enrichment: State Guidance for District and School Leaders offers support as schools plan for summer 2021 learning opportunities to meet the most pressing needs of students and teachers in this uniquely challenging school year. The resources and considerations in this document are based on leading research and evidence-based, best practices for summer learning and closing learning gaps. It also includes guidance on how to use ESSER funding to integrate school and community resources to create innovative summer learning programs. 

One Page Summary of the 2021 Summer Learning & Enrichment document. 

Planning for Learning 

This school year has been unprecedented, and the OPI has put together a Planning Resources for Learning guide with a curated list of resources and documents to guide you. 

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.  


Montana Strategic Waiver Updates 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Education (Department) on February 5, 2021, to waive Montana’s federally mandated state standardized tests, that is, (1) Superintendent Arntzen’s Montana Strategic Waiver Request, (2) Montana Waiver Application, and the (3) Public Comment Summary Report

On April 6, the Superintendent received a letter from Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs, declining approval of the waiver. The OPI had proposed the option to the Department to allow local assessments (e.g., interns) and other measures of student learning and progress to provide information to parents and educators. The OPI reinforced Montana’s system of local control in its discussion and made it clear these decisions are best left to the local level who know the context and unique needs of their local community. Since March 4, Superintendent Arntzen met with the Department’s Assessment Team on three different occasions to share Montana's unique circumstances and conditions for schooling over the past year. 

The Department indicated the OPI had not demonstrated the specific circumstances that would warrant granting a waiver of the annual statewide assessment requirements and, specifically, not administering statewide assessments at all. Through negotiations Superintendent Arntzen has secured the accountability and reporting waivers offered by the Department. These flexibilities grant school districts relief from the “Academic Achievement Indicator” participation rate calculation on the 95 percent requirement within the federal accountability process and school identification. 

Montana is providing the option of state assessments this spring and is seeking maximum flexibilities within the law. School districts should plan on providing students the opportunity to assess when it is safe to do so. No student is expected to be brought into in-person learning for the sole purpose of taking statewide assessments. The safety, health, and well-being of school staff and students is the number one priority this spring. 

To provide flexibility to schools and students across Montana, the OPI has extended all testing windows this spring to the greatest extent practicable using a balance with reporting information to families and educators. Further, the OPI leveraged all feasible assessment flexibilities allowed by the Department, including a shortened version of the Smarter Balanced assessment for Math and English language arts (ELA) and medical exemptions related to the effects of COVID-19. 

The OPI will continue to support assessments for districts that can safely administer them within their instructional/intervention/acceleration learning plans. The OPI will also explore options to add the MetaMetric state-level services to enhance reporting to families and educators and help generalize student progress on a common scale across state and local assessments. Montana is committed to providing technical assistance and professional learning to our schools to support transparency and reporting needs for students, families, and educators. The Montana Strategic Waiver Actions Timeline is a timeline of events that led up to the Department’s decision to deny the Montana Strategic Waiver Application. 


OPI Flexibility with State Assessments 

  • Plan on delivering tests this spring when it is safe to do so. The participation requirement to administer state assessments is required under federal and state law.
  • The Smarter Balanced, Montana Science Assessment (MSA), and Alternate Montana Science Assessment (AMSA) have had the test windows extended until May 28, 2021.
    • The Montana Pre-Testing Checklist provides tasks that should be completed before the planned testing day to ensure a smooth testing experience for students. This resource describes the prioritized tasks and some tips to make sure your school is ready.
  • The OPI has partnered with the Office of Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) to secure flexibility for the ACT spring administration with the “ACT COVID Emergency” test date that is available in early May for schools who may need this opportunity for reasons related to the pandemic.
  • The Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) has extended the test window two weeks until May 14, 2021, for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • No remote proctoring (at-home testing) service for remote learners. School districts wishing to afford the opportunity for remote-only learners to participate in state assessments this spring can use the OPI’s Sample Family Letter. Other sample parent letters for state assessments can be found on the OPI’s Statewide Testing Parent Corner Page. 


Shortened Smarter Balanced Assessment

Superintendent Arntzen has implemented a considerably shortened assessment. This will reduce testing time to support schools and preserve instructional time. The blueprint removes the ELA Performance Task (PT) and replaces it with brief writes in the Computer Adaptive Test (CAT). The shortened test will be shortened by an average of 3–4 hours. To learn more about this test modifications, view the session titled “Five Things You Must Know About Smarter Balanced This Year”. 


Approved Field Test Waiver for Science 

The Department extended the OPI’s science field test from last spring to this spring 2021. This field test waiver decouples the accountability and reporting requirements from the census administration. The waivers will benefit Montana’s students and educators in many ways including providing the opportunity to: 

  • Transition fully to the new science standards. 
  • Transition to new tested grades and engage with new item types. 
  • Experience the new online science testing format used by the AMSA and MSA. 


How do I learn about testing updates? 

The OPI Assessment Unit will continue to share information to the field via the Assessment FAQ: COVID-19 Testing Alerts, Monthly Assessment Bulletin Newsletter, Monthly Webinars, COVID-19 State Standardized Testing Guidance, and other communication means. 


Who do I contact for additional information? 

The Assessment Team is here to help. Contact us at the Assessment Help Desk by email at or 1-844-867-2569.

Pupil Transportation


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 - Public & Non-Public Funding

COVID-Related Funding Received for Public and Non-Public Schools

COVID-Related Funding Received for Public and Non-Public Schools Graphic: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) I = $41,295,230; ESSER II = $170,099,465; ESSER III = $382,019,236; Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) = $19,816,431; Total Funds = $613,230,362

  • Funding for Public Schools
    • The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed in early March provides more COVID-related funding to public schools. Referred to as ESSER III (Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief), schools have at least through 2023 to expend these funds. Previously public schools received ESSER I and II funding. 
  • Funding for Private Schools
    • In the CARES legislation previously signed in December, funding was provided for private and home schools through the Emergency Assistance and Non-Public Schools (EANS) Act.

ESSER (Public) Funding Info     EANS (Private) Funding Info



School Finance Questions & Concerns

School Nutrition

Summer Food Service Program Allowed Until June 30, 2021

10/9/2020- The USDA extended multiple nationwide waivers and flexibilities. Districts running USDA Child Nutrition Programs may have options for feeding students through June 30, 2021. Please contact your regional specialist with questions. 

  • Districts may continue to operate the National School Lunch Program or switch to the Summer Food Service Program through June 30, 2021. 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.
  • Districts that have already been approved to operate the School Year Summer Food Service Program may log into MAPS and extend their days/months of operation on the site applications through the end of the school year (or longer if planning to operate next summer).
  • Districts that have not yet signed up to operate the School Year Summer Food Service Program, but want to make the change must first complete the School Year SFSP FormOnce this form is submitted, you will receive a call from your regional specialist to determine next steps.
The OPI School Nutrition program 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 NSLP or the SFSP. Please contact your regional specialist with questions. 
USDA Nationwide Waivers and ESEA Programs: Department of Education Presentation  

School Safety

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:

FAQ's & Other Guidance