Libby school board passes on pandemic policy guidelines

| May 12, 2020 8:22 AM

The Libby Public School Board opted against adopting a set of policies recommended by the Montana School Boards Association for weathering the COVID-19 pandemic on May 4.

Board members were expected to review and discuss the roughly 40-page document, which is intended to help local districts develop policies based on their approach to the pandemic.

Administrators could tailor the policies to whether they had partially opened schools, returned to in-person instruction or maintained remote learning. Schools in Libby and Troy have opted for the latter.

But Superintendent Craig Barringer told school board members most of the policies and procedures outlined in the document already were in place in Libby schools.

“If you look through these, most of these make multiple references to policies we already have,” he told board members. “If you don’t need them don’t adopt them.”

Gov. Steve Bullock shuttered public schools in mid-March, forcing administrators, teachers, students and families to quickly adopt home education plans. In Libby, administrators adopted a hybrid plan, allowing those families with limited or no Internet access to use paper packets. Other students began using software like Google Classroom for online learning.

Although Bullock allowed schools to reopen as of May 7, Libby officials opted to close out the year with remote instruction. Despite the go-ahead to reopen the district’s buildings, caps on crowd sizes and the overall lack of enthusiasm from parents to send children back to classrooms prompted officials to carry on with remote learning.

Still, Barringer said that the policies were worth reviewing in the eventuality that restrictions remain in place when the school year resumes in the fall.

“It doesn’t change what we’re going to do to finish out the year,” he said, noting that administrators will begin discussing how to approach the coming school year in the months ahead.

Several of the recommendations as well struck Barringer as worrisome. He said a proposal in the document to switch from letter grades to a pass/fail approach in particular troubled him.

“There are some long term consequences to doing this in high school,” he said. “This would be a short term decision that would have long term consequences.”

Board member Lori Benson noted that the policies, as written, would expire on June 30 anyway.

Ellen Johnston, board chair, said she saw no reason to change what the district was doing to address the pandemic in the short term.

“We don’t need them for the next month, month-and-a-half,” she said.

Barringer told the board he would pass the policy recommendations along to Ron Goodman, who will be taking over as superintendent for the 2020-21 school year.