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Missoula County Public Schools must return to full-time learning
Guest column

Missoula County Public Schools must return to full-time learning

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As Missoula families, committed to supporting our children and Missoula County Public Schools staff and faculty, we find ourselves at a loss. Throughout this pandemic, the school board has appeared to only represent a minority of teachers. The needs — and difficult realities — of parents and children are not represented.

This spring, remote learning, coupled with an abundance of caution, was justified. As we have learned, this is a novel coronavirus, and we have adjusted as new science emerges. However, over the past 10 months, fear of anecdotal “what ifs” have dominated discussions and decision-making regarding school planning. The MCPS board, as well as MCPS administration, have overlooked current data and recommendations of experts that point to the critical necessity of public schools remaining open. Our children and community are worse for this oversight.

Children are suffering and their families — many with two working parents — are feeling the stress. Missoula County is one of the only districts in the state currently in a hybrid structure. Across Montana, public school students and teachers have returned to school and progressed with their education.

Meanwhile, MCPS students stand still or fall behind, as most recently reported in an email from MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson stating that 40% of K-5 students in Title 1 schools are two or more grade years below grade level for reading, and 28% of K-5 students in non-Title 1 schools are in the same boat.

We now know that districts with full-time schedules have not seen an increase in cases. Research continues to show that schools are not super-spreaders. Further absence of full-time students in MCPS schools results in learning loss (among many other community social health markers).

The hybrid model is insufficient in advancing concepts and curriculum as would normally be expected. Missoula students deserve to return to school full-time.

Across America, school districts respond and adapt to issues as they arise; making a commitment to fully-functioning schools — to serve their students and their communities as mandated. MCPS should join suit — concerns can be addressed on a school-by-school basis, instead of a blanket response for the entire district.

As parents, our fears and "what ifs" have become daily realities. What if my child goes almost an entire year without a formal education? What if our children fall behind? What if the test scores demonstrate a damaging impact? What if limited social interaction leads to lasting emotional and mental health problems? What if I must quit my job to ensure child care and remote learning are adequately delivered?

Sadly, these concerns are no longer "what ifs" — they are issues facing many Missoula families. We must address these realities not only as families, but as the larger Missoula community. Other area schools are experiencing success with full-time school. We hear a lot of MCPS rhetoric about innovation and a focus on graduation, but the discussion to return to full-time school always seems to fall flat.

Why won’t MCPS consider and adopt the full-time models working for other Montana schools — some in communities with higher numbers of COVID-19 cases?

We are sacrificing our children and their futures. We call on the MCPS board of trustees to return our students to school full-time, now.

This opinion was written by Missoula County Public Schools parents Jill Taber, Jenny Lavey and Faith Meusey, and signed by more than 100 other people.

The additional signers are:

Nick Taber

Patrick and Heather Carls

Noah and Lisa Castle

Jason and Alana Schaefer

Greg and Jaclyn Sundberg

Jenn Kirscher

David and Torrie Tschan

Mike and Cari Kaptur

Cory Hafliger

Zeb and Lacey Harrington

Emma Merle Hunter

Renae Hill

Jess and Heather Ramos

Vicki Shotwell

Jamie Cline

Staci Nugent

Mike and Ren Regan

Amanda Lavoie-Pesek

Riley and Jennifer McGiboney

Colt and Erika Palmer

Brittany Simanton

Kristin Williams

Peter and Debi Hicks

Bryan and Sarah Hickey

Erin and Tyler Gilder

Jennifer Gustafson

Lesley Templeton

Tiara Knowles

Sharon Kolb

Larry J Kolb

Kathy Cotner

Judy Kolb

Larry R Kolb

Craig Hayden

Kellie Wright

Jay and Olivia Jegelski

Niccole Ostrom

Julie Johnson

April Pratt

Heather Weldon

Kevin R Noland

Jesse Johnson

Kelly Frick

Jamie McCorkle

Chad McCorkle

Doug Turner

Kendra Peterson-Richardson

Ben and Kristy Tripp

Scott and Tina Potter

Ryan and Kelsey Dick

Given and Katie Kutz

Jenn Ogren

Ann Lake Rausch

Amanda Vitale

Paul Greenwood

Carole Haidle

Gena Burke

Kari Stewart

Ashley Hinton

Courtney L White

Gena Stevens

Lonnie Stevens

Mike and Rachel Smith

Michelle and Kenny Gather

Leslie and Dan Finch

Stephen Crass

Scott and Paula Crews

Raelynn Rice

Michelle Banbury

Julene Shea and Shaun Shea

Trisha Thorson

Stacey Brown

Josh Green

Leigh McHood

Heather Holbrook

Sarah Newman

Melanie Langel

Lindsey Green

Bobi Grensten

Jami Bay

Kalynn McDaniel

Nelly Lynn

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