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Lincoln School Board convenes emergency meeting to respond to statewide school closure order

The Lincoln School Board held an emergency meeting Sunday night to develop a response plan to Gov. Steve Bullock's order to shut down all K-12 public schools in the state for two weeks, as part of an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

There are currently no reported cases of COVID-19 in Lincoln Schools or in Lincoln. There are currently six reported cases in the state, with two victims in Missoula County, one in Broadwater County, one in Gallatin County, one in Butte-SilverBow County and one in Yellowstone County.

Sunday's School Board meeting focused on the immediate requirements to conduct distance learning and how to best continue providing breakfasts and lunches to student in the school's free and reduced lunch program.

The closure begins Monday, March 16 and lasts through March 27, which coincides with the end of the schools current quarter.

Students are advised not to come to the school Monday. School staff began contacting parents Sunday evening following the emergency meeting to let them know what to expect.

The school staff will be at the school early Monday morning to work on lesson plans for the next two weeks and prepare distance learning packages and class materials for their students. As those are completed, teachers will contact students and their parents to come to the school to pick up the classwork and any items out of their lockers they will need. Those calls are expected to go out Wednesday and Thursday, but could begin as early as Tuesday. The plan is designed to limit the number of students coming into the school at the same time.

The calls to parents Sunday evening also provided a chance to get a count of the number of students who lack computer and internet access. The distance learning is expected to be centered on internet-based features such as Google Classroom, but Lincoln School Superintendent Jennifer Packer said arrangements will be made to provide appropriate hard-copy material for those students without computers or internet access.

The two weeks will not have to be made up at the end of the year, but Packer said they do want schools to continue to provide learning opportunities for the students during the closure.

Packer wants to remind students that the closure is not a vacation and that students should expect to take part in their classwork. Likewise, she said students are discouraged from gathering socially during the closure, and urged them to observe the guidance for protecting themselves, which includes social distancing, frequent hand washing and not touching their faces.

The school will use "to-go" boxes to continue serving breakfasts and lunches to students in the lunch program. School Kitchen Manager Diane Krier will continue to prepare meals according to the established menu. Both the breakfast and lunch meals will be ready at 9 a.m. each morning. For students who live in town, the meals will be available for pick up, and the school is planning to deliver meals to those students who are unable to come to the school. Currently, the plan is to ask parents to call in each day to request the meals. That will provide the school has an accurate headcount for meal preparation and help them determine which students will need to have their meals delivered.

Bullock's order also led to the cancellation of all extracurricular activities including sports and school trips. The Lincoln high School Prom, which was scheduled for March 28, was also postponed indefinitely, with an eye toward possibly rescheduling it later. A decision on the Senior trip to Las Vegas and Disneyland was tabled until more information becomes available.

School staff members will continue to be paid during the two-week closure and staff members will completely disinfect the school. Packer said they had been regularly disinfecting the school prior to the closure, due to the number of students with the flu.

The Lincoln School Board will meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 18 at the school to review and update their response plan and to discuss any further guidance that may come from the state. Lincoln School Board President Aaron Birkholz said the meeting is public, people should balance that against the social distancing guidance and Bullock's recommendation to limit the size of gatherings. The board had already planned to meet that day to discuss their plan for a possible school closure before Bullock's order.

The school board held Sunday's emergency meeting under Montana Code Annotated section 20-3-322, which allowed them waive the 48-hour notice requirement in the event of situation that affects the health and safety of students or employees.


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