Back to School Fall 2020: FAQs

We know that there are lots of questions swirling around about the start of school this year! We are working hard to get solid answers. As things are changing quickly, please check back here often for updates (and we’ll post updates and reminders on Facebook, too).

For a reference list of links to MCPS and Missoula County information, go here:


A: You have two choices within the MCPS system. Each of these choices is separate from the other (different teachers, curriculum, and schedules). Both options will be a partnership between teachers, students, and families. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  1. Phase 1: Hybrid – A blended model of on-site and remote learning. Kids are in school at Rattlesnake 2 days a week (8:30-2:10) and working/learning from home 3 days a week with limited support from their teachers.
  2. Missoula Online Academy (MOA) – A 100% remote option with kids online from home for two hours each day (TBD) between 8:30 & 1:30 for synchronous learning with their teacher and class. Students will be taught by MCPS educators, however, they may not be a teacher who is a member of your student’s home school. 

Once school starts, requests to move from one program to the other will be assessed on a case by case basis.

Q: When is the school year starting?

A: Phase 1: Hybrid begins on August 26 and MOA begins on September 8.

At the Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, August 11, the MCPS School Board approved a plan to begin the year on August 26th in a hybrid model, two days of face-to-face learning and three days of remote learning.  Students with last names beginning with A-K will attend school in one group, and students whose last names begin with L-Z will attend school in another group. Each group will receive remote learning assignments from their classroom teacher for the three days they are not in school. During this hybrid model the school day will begin at 8:30am and end at 2:10pm. Please see Pam’s email with schedule information on the first few weeks of school since there are some short weeks that require adjustments. Week 1 will look like this:

Hybrid Model Schedule – Week 1

      • August 26: Kindergarten Only Day (A– K 8:30am-10:25am, L-Z 12:10pm-2:10pm)
      • August 27: A-K Day (8:30am-2:10pm)
      • August 28: L-Z Day (8:30am-2:10pm)

Families also have the option to choose the MCPS Online Academy, our 100% remote learning option. School for these families will begin on September 8. Registration is open from August 12 – Sept. 2

Both of these plans require some at-home support from parents and caregivers.

Look for an email with class teacher assignment by August 21 for those participating in the hybrid model. MCPS Online Academy’s teacher assignments will come out later, since their first day will be September 8.

Because the situation with coronavirus in our community is always changing, Superintendent Watson will continue to monitor data and adjust plans as necessary.


A: The revised bus schedule is online here.

  • Encourage students maintain a 6 foot distance from each other while waiting for the bus and while loading the bus
  • Follow seating charts and limit the interaction between students while loading and unloading the bus
  • Direct siblings to share seats when needed
  • All students and the bus driver will wear a face covering while on the bus
  • Buses will be cleaned throughout the day and high touch surfaces cleaned between routes

Q: When do parents need to make a decision? Will there be more information about the MCPS Online Academy available to help make an informed decision?

A: All previously registered incoming students to Rattlesnake Elementary will be signed up for the in-person Hybrid School model, unless they have enrolled in the MCPS Online Academy option. The enrollment period for the Online Academy is 8/12/2020 to 9/4/2020 and the link to enroll is here: .

The district has recently published some information to help parents and students better understand the MCPS Online Academy option.

Q: Can I switch from in-person hybrid learning to the Online Academy after school starts on August 26?

The two options of education (Hybrid & Online Academy) will be entirely separate schools, systems, and teachers – and different pacing. Because of this there will be no easy moving between them. If Superintendent Watson moves MCPS back to phase 0 after school starts, all students who have been attending the hybrid model (in-person + remote) will be fully remote and continue working from home with their homeroom teacher.

Q: During the days that kids are at home during the Hybrid School schedule, will they have online instruction from their regular classroom teachers, or will that be through the MCPS Online Academy?

A: During the days that each half of the Hybrid School enrolled students are at home, the PTA’s understanding is that there will be very limited direct engagement with their regular classroom teachers- as these teachers will be teaching the other half of the hybrid block on those days. Instead, as we understand it, some assignments will be given ahead of time- with the amount and type of assignments depending on the age group and the schedule of that week. Lastly, it is our understanding that the Online Academy teachers will not be involved in teaching the Hybrid School students, with the possible exception of specialist teachers (such as art or music). This information is not really well spelled out yet, so we’re hoping to be able to update this soon with greater clarity and detail.

Please note that both of these plans require some at-home support from parents and caregivers.


All students, regardless of whether they are attending in person instruction, on remote learning days, or attending the MCPS Online Academy will have the opportunity to receive food services every school day. Regular meal prices, including free and reduced options, will apply.

Grab and Go lunch for remote learning students will be available for pickup at Rattlesnake Elementary Monday-Friday between 10:30-11:30am outside of the main office. Empower packs (weekend food packs) will also be available at that time on Fridays.

Students participating in remote learning or the MCPS Online Academy can access meals at any school building. It does not have to be their school of attendance, it can be the closest neighborhood MCPS school.

New this year, we are implementing a “Breakfast After the Bell” program at all K5 schools. This program will provide free breakfast for all students that they will eat in the classroom each morning.

Q: Who will teach the students in the MCPS Online Academy, and what will that exactly look like?

A: MCPS does have several pages of information available here:

MCPS Online Academy will be a partnership between teachers, students, and families, just like our in person schools. It is clear that the Online Academy option will be staffed with MCPS teachers (however, they may not be a teacher who is a member of your student’s home school), and we’ve heard directly from Superintendent Watson that the intent is to have teachers that cannot return to face-to-face teaching be the primary staffing of the Online Academy. Lots of other details are included on the new MCPS Online Academy page.

A page on the Roles & Responsibilities within the MOA explains a lot more:

Q: What will be some of the key differences that my student should be mentally prepared for regarding in-person attendance this fall?

A: Some of the key differences include:

  • Breakfast and lunch will be eaten in the classrooms instead of the cafeteria, or outside (weather permitting). 
  • Recess may have some big differences, such as parts of the playground being divided up or blocked off to promote distance between class groups. 
  • Some specials, such as music and art, may not begin in the first month, or may be taught during online learning days. 
  • Classrooms may be set up very differently, to allow for more space between students and easier cleaning. 
  • Interactions between different classes and grades will be extremely limited (for instance, it is very unlikely there will be a reading buddies program this year).
  • Parents/visitors cannot enter the building
  • There will be no extracurricular activities, with the exception of those activities that provide after school childcare
  • COVID cases in our school may cause in-person school to have to start and stop periodically throughout the school year.

Q: Are the school counselors already available to answer questions and help guide parents with their decisions? 

Yes, both of Rattlesnake’s counselors (Katelyn Scholle & Stacy Holden) are available to answer questions and assist parents. Here is a link to the contact information for Rattlesnake teachers and staff:

Q: What will be done to support air quality and safety in the classrooms?

A: Whenever possible teachers will try and keep windows open and integrate outdoor learning as much as they can. Thankfully, the recent renovation of Rattlesnake Elementary already brought the HVAC system of the building up to date with modern standards, including the use of MERV13 air filters (this is the industrial level suggested by public health authorities for schools to maintain safe air) as well as a high-turnover system. Additionally, MCPS Operations and Management are looking at installing additional safeguards in all district buildings’ air filtration systems to further improve air safety.

From Burley McWilliams, Director of Operations and Maintenance:

“Rattlesnake has numerous mechanical systems. Mainly, each classroom has unit-ventilators. The unit vents combine room air with outside air and filter with MERV 13 filters. Each classroom has a CO2 Sensor at the thermostats, which will adjust for more outside air when CO2 limits are exceeded. Your school is also connected to the district’s Building Management System.  This system allows the district HVAC Technician remote direct access to review and assure the systems are operating at full capacity. “

Q: How can parents and students prepare for the upcoming school year if they plan to attend in-person?

A: As parents, we do need to prepare our children for a different kind of school year than they may have experienced in the past.  

  • Per state and county-wide directives, children will need to wear a cloth face covering (often just called a mask) in the classrooms. Masks are most effective when clean, dry, made from tightly woven cotton, and fitting closely over our children’s noses and mouths. Neck gaiter (“buff”) type masks tend to slip off very frequently, and will not be an allowable type of mask for attendance at school. For more information, please see the MCPS Parent Info for Face Masks page and the CDC’s mask page. At Rattlesnake School, the Family Connection Center will have extra masks for kids that do not have their own, or for use if a mask is lost, etc.
  • Teachers will be integrating outside air and time outside as much as possible for everyone’s safety so it is important that our children are dressed appropriately for the weather they may encounter each school day. A small bottle of hand sanitizer in their backpack might be a good idea, for when a student is not easily able to wash their hands prior to touching their mask or face. A filled water bottle that your child can drink from independently is always advisable- and this year, the old style water fountains will be closed (the new water bottle filling stations will remain open.)
  • It is always good to reinforce proper hand washing techniques 
  • You can talk to your kids about social distancing– what it is, and why do we do it. Talking about how coronavirus is transmitted mostly by airborne particles is helpful to reinforce why it is so important to wear masks indoors, practice good distancing, and wash hands frequently.
  • If age appropriate, you can talk about COVID symptoms and what you should do if you experience them (Hint: tell an adult immediately!). This conversation is very helpful to explain why the school will be taking temperatures of students, as well as other health screening precautions.

Q: What supplies do we need?

A: For 2020 class specific lists for in-person attendance, see the school website: You will also need cloth face coverings (“masks”) for your child, as listed above. For MCPS Online Academy, there is not yet a published list or resource. We will add that when it becomes available.

Q: What should I do if I am having tech difficulties and am unable to access Remote Learning resources for my student?

A: Reach out to your students’ teachers, Principal Wright, and/or the PTA, so that we can help you work through tech related challenges. We will share more details on the remote portion of week for students participating in the Hybrid learning program when we have them.

Q: What will happen if a staff/teacher or student becomes ill with COVID symptoms?

A: Any person exhibiting COVID symptoms will not be allowed to attend in-person school. Parents will be required to conduct health screenings at home before sending their children to school. It is also imperative that an adult is available at all times to pick-up students who plan to attend in-person school in case they begin exhibiting symptoms during the school day.

The Missoula County health department investigates all presumptive positives in the county, and confidentially reaches out to all close contacts of the cases. Any individual who is identified as a close contact is required to quarantine at home for 14 days, regardless of symptoms or negative test.  MCCHD will release them to return to school.

From Superintendent Watson: MCPS believes that in-person learning is important, but the return to school also places students and staff at-risk for contracting COVID-19. We expect that any return to in-person learning will result in transmission and positive cases COVID-19. In the event there is a confirmed case, either staff or student, there could be a short term school closure as recommended by MCCHD.  

More details on the MCPS response plan:

Q: Where can I get a child sized cloth face covering?

A: There are many options for masks for your child.

Many local small businesses make child sized face coverings in a variety of sizes:

Commercially made cloth face coverings are available in many area businesses:

Purchase masks online:

You can even make your own cloth face covering:

If you are struggling to secure properly fitting face coverings for your child, please don’t hesitate to contact Stacy Jehle at the Family Connection Center (call (406) 728-2400 ext. 4523 or email her at for further assistance.

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