Putting Local Control Back Into Education in Montana
Local control is returning to our school districts! During these unprecedented times, as the State Superintendent, I have made strong recommendations to the Governor to honor local control and flexibility for our schools. The Governor’s new directive for a phased reopening of our state includes that education decisions should be made by local school trustees while ensuring social distancing guidelines are met. In Montana, we trust our trustees.
School districts now have the opportunity to continue distance learning, return to traditional classrooms providing social distancing can occur, or pursue a mixed-model of education for the remainder of the school year. Local school boards and health departments also have the ability to declare local emergencies to close schools per state law.
My office has successfully secured 11 school nutrition waivers and we are seeking additional waivers to allow local innovation in serving foods to our children into the future. I secured a waiver to suspend traditional instruction hours to allow flexibility in distance learning and allow the creative use of school buses for delivering education and nutrition services. I also secured a federal waiver to release Montana from federally mandated tests, as in these uncertain times Montanans know that these one-time tests are not a reflection of student success.
I have also ensured that every Montana school gets equitable funding from the federal CARES Act dollars, that teachers have professional development opportunities through our agency’s online Teacher Learning Hub, and that the public has the most up-to-date resources and information available. Visit: http://opi.mt.gov/COVID-19-Information for the full catalog of information.
Local control is so important in our unique state. When the new school year begins in the fall, education also will look unique as we serve our students from elementary to high school and from our small schools to our large AA. In my leadership role, I am here to serve and support all models of innovation in public education delivery. I will be convening a task force under my MT LEARN initiative which will include parents, students, teachers, school leaders, tribal leaders, and community members to work over the summer. MT LEARN will help ensure that schools have guidance and resources to support and meet students wherever they are in their learning as the new school year's doors open.
I couldn't be prouder of Montana’s parents and teachers as they have led their communities through these unprecedented circumstances. I couldn’t have done this alone. I appreciate the Montana PTA and local school leaders. Together, we are all putting Montana students first!
Elsie Arntzen is Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction