by Elsie Arntzen

This week, I had a conversation with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to discuss national responses to the COVID-19 outbreak and how the U.S. Department of Education can assist Montana schools. I encouraged flexibility for Montana schools. We also discussed equitable alternative education delivery and what that looks like in rural Montana, especially for special education and other at-risk student groups.

As communities across Montana were forced to rapidly adapt in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, I was encouraged by how deliberately school administrators, teachers, and families stood up to lead through unprecedented circumstances. Even before the Governor announced a statewide closure of Montana’s schools, the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) had been in communication with school leaders while urging the Governor and federal agencies to waive certain requirements for schools in the event of locally declared closures.

Since the announcement of statewide school closures, the OPI has been in constant contact with Montana’s local school leaders, recognizing that Montana is a local control state. The OPI’s message has been consistent; schools and families deserve flexibility in these extraordinary times. To date, I have successfully advocated for the following waivers;

· Allowing flexibility in delivering school nutrition services.

· Canceling federally mandated standardized tests.

· Rescinding bus regulations to allow for the delivery of remote education and nutrition services.

· Eliminating required student instruction hours to allow for innovative distance learning.

Parents, teachers, and school leaders are focused on the health and safety of their students while continuing to provide education and nutrition services. Burdensome federal and state mandates are the last thing they should have to worry about at this time.

I have OPI specialists who have been working tirelessly to support all aspects of student and school needs. As we look ahead to school doors opening again, I am proud of Montana’s students, parents, teachers, and school administrators for your tremendous leadership in uncertain times. As your Superintendent of Public Instruction, I am here to support you.

Elsie Arntzen is Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction