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: https://rattlesnakepta.org/2020/07/28/back-to-school-fall-2020/
Q: When will we know how the school year is really going to start?
A: At this time, Superintendent Watson has said he hopes to announce firm plans on August 11th at the 6pm Board of Trustees meeting (to attend the meeting via zoom: Meeting ID: 944 3478 4044 / Passcode: 687986).
Because the situation with coronavirus in our community is always changing, that also may change. As of the end of July, it appears that MCPS is planning a best case scenario to start the school year with some students in the “AABB block” Hybrid School schedule, and some students making the choice to instead enroll in the new MCPS Online Academy. If/when these plans change or are fully confirmed, we will update this Q&A and make an announcement on the Rattlesnake PTA Facebook account.
Q: When do parents need to make a decision between in-person attendance (currently anticipated as Phase 1: Hybrid School) vs. enrolling their students in the MCPS Online Academy? Will there be more information about the MCPS Online Academy available to help make an informed decision?
A: The deadline for enrollment decisions has not been made public yet. The district has recently published some information to help parents and students better understand the MCPS Online Academy option.
We will update this Q&A and make an announcement on the Rattlesnake PTA Facebook account as soon as the deadlines are available.
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.
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: https://www.mcpsmt.org/domain/4012
It is clear that the Online Academy option will be staffed with MCPS teachers, 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.
Q: What will be some of the key differences that my student should be mentally prepared for regarding in-person attendance this fall?
A: Breakfast and lunch will not be eaten in the cafeterias. Instead, they will be eaten in the classrooms, 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 via 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).
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.
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: https://www.mcpsmt.org/Page/14. 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 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. It is 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. Close contacts are asked to separate from the public and monitor for symptoms.
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:
- Chidcare Resources Org: info and instructions to make 3 different types of masks at home
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 email@example.com) for further assistance.