• Montana Schools are OPEN •


Keeping Students Safe & Healthy

  

CDC's Most Recent Changes to Operation of Schools 

Highlights

  • 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 March 19, 2021. Review the full Operational Strategy for K–12 Schools through Phased Prevention.

Teaching, Learning & Supporting Students


Additional Guidance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Specific Area Guidance •

Academics & Remote Learning

Academic Programming Guidance 2021-2022  

New! Check out the OPI Acceleration Guidance Document to learn more about selecting instructional materials that incorporate acceleration and jump start your acceleration programs. 

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 

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 planning for academic success for all students. Educational 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 

View our professional learning options when developing professional learning plans for the 2021-2022 school year. 

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.  

Assessment

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 opiassessmenthelpdesk@mt.gov 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) = $24,679,709; Total Funds = $618,093,640

  • 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

School Nutrition Programs Waivers for the 2021-22 School Year

 

The US Department of Agriculture recently announced new and extended school nutrition waivers for the 2021-2022 school year for schools participating in the OPI School Nutrition Programs. These waivers continue to offer flexibility in feeding children and meeting local needs.

Many of these flexibilities are extensions of existing waivers. For example, schools can continue to offer grab and go meals if needed, parents or guardians can pick up meals to take home to their children, and schools can establish meal service times that support streamlined access to nutritious meals. Additionally, specific meal pattern flexibilities have been extended, allowing for increased food choices to support alternative meal service options. 

In addition, a waiver will allow school districts to access the new Seamless Summer Option during the school year. Typically, schools operate the National School Lunch Program during the school year. This new program removes student income eligibility requirements and will provide a higher meal reimbursement rate to schools. 

To ensure Montana schools are aware of and prepared for this new program, OPI is currently working on administrative and technology changes to existing systems to accommodate the new Seamless Summer Option. These changes will allow school districts to sign up and apply for this option. OPI School Nutrition Programs staff will communicate with districts when they are prepared to accept Seamless Summer Option applications for the 2021-2022 school year. 

 

Guidance for What School Nutrition Professionals and Volunteers at Schools Need to Know about COVID-19 

CDC recently updated the guidance on the What School Nutrition Professionals and Volunteers at Schools Need to Know about COVID-19 web page

School administrators and operators of school nutrition programs can use this information to reduce the risk of COVID-19 among employees and volunteers preparing and serving meals, and the students, families, and other school staff who support or participate in school meals programs.

Key updates include 

  • Expanded guidance on healthy behaviors to reduce transmission among school nutrition employees and volunteers. 
  • Emphasis that individuals maintain 6 feet apart to the greatest extent possible during mealtimes. 
  • Recommending that school prioritize outdoor serving and seating models or increase ventilation in indoor areas used for mealtimes.
  • Recommending that schools use unused or underutilized spaces during mealtimes. 
  • Emphasizing that routine cleaning, sanitizing, or disinfecting procedures that local and state health agencies require for food safety are adequate to sufficiently reduce the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. These procedures should be combined with other prevention measures, such as wearing a mask, keeping physical distance, and hand washing. If someone is known or suspected to have COVID-19, additional cleaning and disinfection procedures are needed. 
  • Removing recommendations for physical barriers such as partitions between seats. This is because stronger scientific evidence supports prioritizing prevention measures such as masks, distancing, hand hygiene, and ventilation. However, CDC is not recommending against the use of physical barriers. Schools may decide to use or continue using physical barriers if they find them helpful to reduce the risk of transmission. The guidance does clarify when physical barriers may be useful including in high-traffic areas where it is difficult for people to remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., cash registers, workstations, food pickup areas). 
  • Recommending grab-and-go and/or individually plated meals. However, this updated guidance does provide additional information on how to safely have self-service food and drink options if state and local public health departments have determined it is safe use. If traditional self-serve stations such as hot and cold food bars, salad or condiment bars are offered schools should use the following prevention strategies: 
  1. Require students and staff to wear a mask over the nose and mouth when waiting in line and when serving themselves food. 
  2. Provide handwashing stations or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and encourage use before use of self-service station. 
  3. Encourage students and staff remain at least 6 feet apart while waiting in line by providing physical guidance and visual cues, such as tape or graphics on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls. 
  4. If shared objects (e.g., utensils, tongs) are used, continue to replace according to food safety code.
  5. Ensure that used or dirty non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed, rinsed, and sanitized to meet food safety requirements. Employees and volunteers should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after removing their gloves or after handling used or dirty food service items. 
  6. Protect unpackaged food items from contamination by providing barrier, such as sneeze shield.

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: SPEDCOVID@mt.gov.

FAQ's & Other Guidance