Great Falls Public Schools announced on Wednesday afternoon that in-class learning will resume on Monday, November 30th, as scheduled.
The district transitioned to a two-week remote learning schedule recently as the number of COVID cases continues to spike both within schools and across the community.
In a Facebook post, GFPS said: "After consulting with our task force of Health Care Officials, District Administrators and School Trustees, a decision has been made to return to face to face learning in our schools on Monday, November 30th as scheduled. The exception to the return to face to face learning will be at East Middle School. Face to Face Learning for students at East Middle School will not resume there until Wednesday, December 2. This extended closure will allow the staff at East Middle school an opportunity to meet with the District grief counselors and to adequately prepare for their students to return on Wednesday, December 2nd. There will be no expectation/requirement of remote learning for students and staff on those two days."
GFPS superintendent Tom Moore added: "As our health officials and school district administrators and nurses continue to monitor the situation with COVID-19 in our community and schools, we may need to return to temporary or extended remote learning in some or all schools at some point... During the return to face to face learning, all staff, students and community member are reminded to strictly adhere to the safety and health protocols of; staying home when you are feeling sick and notifying your health care provider, wearing a mask in public and in our schools at all times, handwashing and physical distancing precautions to reduce the spread of this virus."
The state's largest union representing teachers, the Montana Federation of Public Employees, is urging school administrators to take stricter public health actions following the deaths of two union members from the coronavirus. "We now have lost two MFPE members who work in public school classrooms, and those deaths were both preventable," said MFPE President Amanda Curtis.
The news comes just a few days after family members of Ken Maddox, a teacher and coach in Great Falls Public Schools, said he died from complications of COVID, after 40 years as an educator in the district.
Curtis revealed in an interview on Wednesday that another public school employee in Montana has also died from COVID, but could not give more information due to health privacy laws. In a statement released on Tuesday, MFPE said all "school districts, boards, and administrators must continue to do everything in their power to enforce public health guidelines."
"The simple fact remains that we cannot continue to have schools operating in-person when restaurants, bars, and school activities continue to exacerbate community spread," the statement said.
It's unclear exactly how remote learning is affecting the education of students nationwide, but on Wednesday, the federal government postponed its National Assessment of Educational Progress until 2022 because of the pandemic. Every two years, the National Center for Education Statistics typically issue "report cards" school districts across the country, including GFPS.
Union leaders here in Montana say although the situation is different for each district, school administrators should be doing the most they can to curb the spread of the virus. "There is no excuse for any Montanan to walk around without a mask, or to be going out when they don't need to," Curtis said. "It's up to all of us to keep each other from dying from this virus."
There are 911 new COVID-19 cases reported across Montana, and the death toll has now reached 666 - an increase of 14 since Tuesday - according to data compiled over the past 24 hours by MTN News. There are currently 462 people hospitalized, and the cumulative number of hospitalizations is 2,474.