While Gov. Steve Bullock's school closure and stay-at-home order extends only through April 24, a group of state education officials are telling schools to expect closures to claim the rest of the school year.
The same letter, headlined by Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, recommends calling off traditional high school graduation ceremonies.
"We advise that you plan to continue your distance learning plans through the remainder of this school year and also plan to not hold large-scale in-person graduation ceremonies," it says. "We encourage you to postpone graduation ceremonies until later in the year or come up with alternative plans to honor your graduates, ensuring equity in recognition for all students, including special education students."
Other signees include Darlene Schottle, the chairwoman of the Board of Public Instruction, and leaders of groups like School Administrators of Montana, the Montana School Boards Association, and the statewide teachers' union.
The letter holds no regulatory authority, but jibes with comments from local school leaders.
Billings Public Schools superintendent Greg Upham has repeatedly expressed skepticism about the feasibility of a traditional graduation ceremony, though the district has made no decision, and he's asked educators to plan for the possibility of a closure for the rest of the school year.
The letter cites federal guidance that social distancing recommendations will likely extend into May and perhaps into the summer.
"If the governor’s 'Stay At Home' and 'School Closure' orders are not extended through the remainder of the school year, of course, local districts are welcome to proceed however they would like as Montana is a local control state," Office of Public Instruction spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said in an email distributing the letter.
"However, we cannot imagine a scenario where social distancing will not be recommended or required in the months of May, June, or even further into the summer, making traditional graduation ceremonies and traditional moves back into classrooms unlikely."
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