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Boards to decide next week on restarting schools

Daily Inter Lake | April 25, 2020 1:00 AM

As part of the first phase of the state’s phased reopening, Gov. Steve Bullock announced that in-classroom learning could begin on May 7 in a limited fashion. But local superintendents are leaning toward finishing the school year remotely.

Bullock’s plan requires local school boards to make decisions on how their individual districts will finish the school year as concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic continue.

As reported in the Inter Lake on Friday, Mark Flateau, Kalispell Public Schools superintendent, sent a letter to students and staff saying he will recommend to the board of trustees that online remote learning continue for the remainder of the school year. Whitefish Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt will make a similar recommendation to the Whitefish School Board next week.

Cal Ketchum, superintendent of West Valley School, sent a letter to students and staff saying he will recommend remote learning as the “safest option for the remainder of the school year.”

“The requirements set by the governor and local health officials would make the logistics of any on-site instruction tremendously impractical and we believe there would be a significant risk of transmission of disease,” Ketchum’s letter states.

“I know the hardships remote learning has created for our families. The health and safety of students, families, and staff is our highest priority.

“Right now we are for the most part focused on the fall and how we can prepare for what might happen then,” Ketchum told the Inter Lake over the phone.

The West Valley school board will meet on April 28 at 5 p.m. over Google Meet to consider Ketchum’s recommendation.

The Somers-Lakeside School District is currently working with other school districts in the valley and the Flathead City-County Health Department to weigh its options for the remainder of the school year, according to a post on the district’s Facebook page.

“We will share more information with you in the coming days,” the post states.

Other school districts will make a decision next week on how to proceed, though superintendents have not made their recommendations public.

Bigfork School District will discuss the issue and make a decision at its board meeting on April 29 at 5 p.m. Information for viewing the meeting will be posted on

Columbia Falls School District’s board will meet next week to decide how to proceed, though no date has been announced.

Local superintendents are working with Hillary Hanson, Flathead County public health officer, on their recommendations.

“We are having conversations with superintendents, but as we just received the directive yesterday we still have a lot of work we need to do to put together guidance,” Hanson said on Thursday. “I will continue to be in regular communication with the superintendents to provide them guidance as we have it available.”

Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at Reporter Kianna Gardner contributed to this story.

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