Missoula County Public Schools trustees officially declared an emergency Tuesday due to community and school health concerns related to COVID-19. Trustees granted superintendent Rob Watson the authority to determine off-site teaching methods for the district and the authority to determine student proficiency for grades K-12.

“It is really a formality that might help in the long run with regards to making up days if we have to, or if we don’t have to, but also to make sure that we can maintain our funding when we are not in school,” Watson said. “It is a formal process that is stipulated in state law. The board takes action to declare an emergency and to recognize the fact that we are closed right now.”

As the weeks progress, Watson says they are going to start changing some of their remote learning plans. They will make them more specific for specific teachers, classes, and grade levels.

“The governor has the power to waive some of the requirements around instructional time and instructional days,” Watson said. “He has allowed us to present a plan to our school board. If it is approved by our board, it would go to the governor’s office. He would then waive the requirement for a certain number of instructional days so we would not have to make up those days.”

Watson has been asking parents not to stress about the current system. He wants parents to understand that this is frustrating for kids as well.

“It is ok to take a break and to stop and come back at a later time,” Watson said. “It is ok to try other activities at home. One thing I have been telling parents is that reading a book or playing a board game at home can be just as engaging as an activity that they might be doing at school. That is a really good alternative if kids get frustrated.”

According to Watson, students will not have to repeat their grade if the school year ends prematurely.

“We would take kids from where they are at and move them forward,” Watson said. “When we left school, some of our kids were struggling. It will be our job in the next few weeks and months to get those kids up to speed so that they are ready for the next grade level. That is part of our remote learning plan. We want to make sure kids are getting some of the bare necessities so that they are ready for the next grade level.”

The Office of Public Instruction and the Montana University System announced Tuesday that students who are currently juniors in high school will have the opportunity to take the ACT test free of charge next fall.

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