State of Montana Guidelines

Montana’s education system is based on local control, meaning that each district can develop strategies for in-person and remote learning that best suit local communities. Documents prepared by statewide leaders have been made available to provide strategies and guidance for school districts in developing local plans for resuming instruction in the fall.


Governor’s Plan for Reopening Safe and Healthy Schools for Montana

Guidelines developed by school professionals and labor leaders to support in-person instruction in schools this fall. The document sets forth strategies that schools can use to ensure that students are able to return safely to schools.


Montana Schools 2020

Resources developed by the Office of Public Instruction to support school districts in developing plans for the upcoming school year. Includes information on special education, mental health, nutrition, fall activities, and academics.

SD2 Reopening Plan

Billings Public Schools is focused on ensuring that students and staff can return to live instruction in a safe and high-quality environment. For those students and teachers who cannot safely participate in live instruction, a robust remote learning platform will be made available. In developing its plan, BPS reviewed state guidance documents, as well as information from local health officials, parents and teachers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other Montana districts facing these same challenges. With 17,000 students and more than 2000 staff members, Billings Public Schools is the largest district in the state. We embrace the wide diversity of thoughts and opinions on fall instruction. The plan below reflects significant stakeholder input and is designed to be a flexible approach to both in-person and remote learning. This document will be updated as circumstances warrant.

Questions You’ve Asked

We will be frequently updating questions as they come up

Traditional learning model (live classroom instruction)

What will a typical school day look like this fall in Billings schools?

For traditional learning, the day will be much like an ordinary school day. Movement of students inside elementary buildings will be limited where possible. For example, specialists will generally try to come to classrooms, rather than moving students. All ordinary subjects will be offered, including art, music, and P.E. Arrival and dismissal may be slightly staggered to reduce the number of students congregating at any one point. Multiple doors may also be used for arrival and dismissal to reduce crowds at any one door. Recess will take place and teachers are encouraged to take learning outdoors when possible.

Cohorts will be used when possible to keep children in groups in elementary schools. In middle school and high school, block scheduling will be used to reduce the amount of time that students are congregating in the hallways. An overview of the Block Schedule Format can be found here.

Classrooms will be arranged to allow for physical distancing where possible. Desks will generally face the same direction. For small group work, physical barriers (e.g. plexiglass) at a table may be used.

Details about individual school operations will be sent home to parents by their school principals prior to the start of the school year.

District leaders have said that students generally do better with live instruction, rather than remote learning. But, will students really have the same quality of experience this fall that leads to better outcomes? With masks, physical distancing and barriers, limited movement, and all the anxiety, can we expect live instruction to be that much better?

This school year will certainly look and feel differently than previous years. Teachers and administrators are working diligently to ensure that our schools can open safely and that we can have as many familiar routines as possible. We will also learn and adjust as the year unfolds, adapting and improving classroom instruction throughout the year. We are confident that students will receive high quality instruction, including the support that many students need to succeed.

Can you explain the idea of cohorts?

Schools will be grouped, where possible, into smaller school “families” or “cohorts,” keeping the same students together as much as possible. For example, in a school where all first grade classes went out for recess together, this year a school may group all students in the northwest quadrant of the building together for outdoor time. This will help with contact tracing, if needed, and mitigate the risk of transmission.

Will high school students be able to use the Career Center? What will that look like?

At this time, yes. It will look like it always has, with the building and transportation safety protocols in place. Students will not be required to stay in a cohort from their home school.

Will students in upper grades move around the school building like normal, or will teachers move?

In middle schools and high schools, students will pass from classroom to classroom as normal. However, block scheduling will be used to reduce the number of passing periods during the day. Rather than changing classes 6 times per day, students will have longer classes on a rotating schedule. In middle school, students will have an A/B schedule meaning that they will have three classes on one day, and three different classes the next, switching every other day. In high school, students will rotate classes every week, rather than every day. An overview of the Block Schedule format can be found here.

In elementary schools, when feasible, teachers will move to classrooms for instruction. For example, the music teacher may go to each third grade classroom, rather than each third grade classroom going to the music room.

Can we expect students to be outside more or less? Will they get to do classes outdoors, or just recess?

Weather permitting, teachers are encouraged to use outdoor spaces for instruction, as well as recess. If outdoor instruction or activities allow for physical distancing, students can remove masks outdoors. If students or staff are outside but in close contact, they will need to continue wearing masks.

Can students use playground equipment?

At this time, BPS is still evaluating how to allow safe use of playground equipment, including how to clean and sanitize outdoor equipment regularly.

Will students be able to use their lockers, considering how close together they are?

Students may use their lockers, but will be encouraged to limit the amount of time they spend at their lockers as well as the frequency of going to lockers. Students are encouraged to use their backpacks when possible to carry books and school supplies to limit the amount of time students are congregating in the hallway.

Are high-risk classes like gym and music canceled?

No. Safety protocols are in place for both courses.

What will mealtimes look like?

The BPS reopening guide sets forth two options for mealtimes, which can be found on pages 9-10 of the guide. Each school principal will select the option that works best for their school, based on facility space and staff supervision capacity. Some schools may vary between both options, to give students a chance to have both meal experiences.

Option A is a plan for meals in the classroom – students will be allowed to select from two options for breakfast delivered to a table outside of the classroom so that students can pick up a meal without contact. Once the day begins, students will have the option to select from two lunch meal options. Lunches will be delivered outside the classroom as well.

Option B is a strategy for meals in a cafeteria. Students will form a line with adult supervision to support physical distancing and the flow of students. Students will be able to select from two options for breakfast or lunch, prepared on disposable trays. No self-service will be allowed. As they exit, students will either swipe their meal cards, key in their numbers or give their name to a Lunch Clerk. Meals will be eaten in the cafeteria with distancing, in the classroom, or in other areas designated by staff.

High school students will be allowed to leave the campus for lunch.

Will transportation be available for the fall? What will buses look like?

Transportation will continue to be available. Face coverings and physical distancing will be used, and students living in the same household may be asked to sit together to increase the available capacity of ridership. Additional details on transportation options, including all safety protocols, can be found on pages 11-12 of the Reopening Guide.

Who can I contact with more questions about in-class instruction?

Parents with questions about the Traditional Learning Model should reach out to their building administrator. Contact information for each school can be found here.

Online learning model

What will the remote platform look like?

Portions of the Remote Learning Model are still in development, as we assess student needs and course requests. However, parents and students should expect that remote learning will require students to be generally engaged during the entirety of the normal school day. Attendance will be taken daily.

Students are encouraged to have paper, pencils, coloring utensils, pens, highlighter, scissors and a binder to organize their subjects. Packets of work will not be sent home as all materials will be available virtually. However, materials that may be needed for each subject will be ready for pick up when Chromebook pick up occurs.

Remote learning will use a variety of strategies for student engagement. In some cases, an entire class will meet virtually with their teacher, either through Zoom or Google Classroom. In other cases, there will be small group instruction or one-on-one virtual interaction with a teacher. Additionally, there will be time for independent work offline. Parents will likely need to support their students throughout the regular school day.

Students can work on some activities after hours, but the majority of work will take place during a regular school day. Parent-Teacher conferences will be available remotely, should parents need to discuss their child’s progress or challenges with the Remote Learning platform.

Technology is available for families to check out from the district if needed. Devices will need to be returned to the district at the end of the school year and families may be charged if devices are damaged. If you do not have reliable internet access in your home, please contact the Lincoln Center.

Can families choose between in-class and remote learning?

Yes. Priority will be given to students or staff who have circumstances that prevent them from participating in the Traditional Learning Model, but we anticipate enough capacity to serve all families who wish to use the Remote Learning Model.

BPS is asking parents to complete a form, available on the PowerSchool Parent Portal which you can find here: . Please complete this survey for EACH student you have enrolled in the District. For information regarding your ParentPortal username and password, please contact your home school. Please complete this form by 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 9th.

Why is the district asking for a one-year commitment from families? What if the choice I make now just isn’t working for my child?

BPS has limited staffing and fiscal capacity to support students transitioning from one learning model to the other during the school year. With more than 5,000 students expected to participate in remote instruction, the logistics of supporting fluid transitions is not manageable. BPS is committed to maintaining accreditation standards to the greatest extent possible, meaning that class size limitations must be followed and that classes must be taught by licensed instructors. BPS is working to support as many classes and electives as possible online, but each class must follow accreditation standards for the number of students to one teacher.

If a student cannot successfully continue in a particular learning model, parents should contact the school principal or Becky Carlson, our Remote Learning Administrator, to discuss student support options. Ms. Carlson can be reached at or 281-5137.

Should public health conditions warrant, these procedures may change.

Will the remote classes be taught by licensed teachers?

Yes. The school district will use current BPS teachers to staff the Remote Learning Model. If there are not sufficient BPS teachers for all needed courses, the district may hire additional teachers on a temporary one-year contract

Will all course options be available for remote learning?

The goal is to offer as many courses for online learning as would be offered in the Traditional Learning Model. However, there are a number of specialty courses that can not be replicated within the Remote Learning Model. If a class cannot be offered virtually, students may choose to attend in-person instruction for that class only. If a student cannot safely participate in live instruction but needs a course that is not available in the Remote Learning Model, the student or parents should discuss options with their school administrator as soon as possible.

Will standardized tests be canceled for remote learning?

No. District, state and federal assessments will be administered during the 2020-2021 school year. For those students participating in the Traditional Learning Model, assessments will be conducted in person, on school campuses. Masks and distancing will be enforced, and disinfecting procedures will be followed before and after the use of each electronic device (if used).

For students participating in the Remote Learning Model, online benchmark assessments, such NWEA MAP, may be required. In addition, due to specific testing protocols, test security, and limitations of the assessment systems, remote learning students may need to make arrangements to participate in state and federal mandated scheduled assessments (such as Smarter Balanced or ACT) in person. If such a presence is required, strict safety protocols will be in place.

The Class of 2021 (current Seniors) will take the ACT on October 6, 2020, following BPS safety protocols and any additional safety protocols as directed by ACT for testing validity purposes. The Class of 2022 (current Juniors) is tentatively scheduled to take the PreACT on October 6, 2020. The ability to adhere to safety protocols will be the determining factor in the administration of the PreACT assessment.

What is the difference between remote instruction and homeschooling?

The Remote Learning Model is simply a different means of allowing students enrolled in Billings Public Schools to participate in instruction. All classes will conform to accreditation standards to the greatest extent possible. Students will be taught by licensed instructors. Parents may need to assist their children in accessing the Remote Learning Model and providing support to their child’s learning, but parents are not expected to be the child’s primary teacher in the Remote Learning Model. Students who participate in the Remote Learning Model may still participate in sports and activities offered in the district, to the extent they feel safe doing so. Meals are available to students in the Remote Learning Model, including free and reduced-price lunch. Students in the Remote Learning Model also have access to school guidance counselors, career counselors, administrators, nurses, and other support personnel.

Home school withdraws the child from enrollment in Billings Public Schools. The parent or guardian is responsible for the instruction of their child in the home environment. Parents are responsible for the selection and purchase of instructional material and registering with the county superintendent’s office. The state Office of Public Instruction provides more information on home school here.

Will the remote learning platform include live instruction or just videos? What if I work during the day – can my child still participate in remote learning?

The Remote Learning Model will feature both synchronous (all students online live with a teacher at the same time) and asynchronous (recorded videos or independent learning activities) instructional methods. The Remote Learning Model will have a structured schedule with class attendance being taken daily by teachers. Students will be expected to engage during the ordinary school day in assignments, live video lessons, use of digital tools and software, and other learning activities as directed by teaching staff.

As evidenced in the Spring of 2020, remote learning can be challenging for students. While the remote learning model will look very different from online learning last spring, it is important that families play an active role in remote learning.

Will BPS allow parents to check out technology to participate in remote learning? What other supplies should we be prepared to have on hand?

Students participating in Remote Learning must check out a technology device from their home school. Chromebooks will be provided at your local school – please reach out to your school for the specific pick-up date.  Upon completion of the school year, the device will need to be returned to the school. Families are responsible for any damage to the device and will be charged accordingly.

Some additional materials, like workbooks and textbooks, will also be offered for pick up at the start of the year, or occasionally throughout the year.  Daily or weekly worksheet/supply packets will not be sent home, like they were in the spring.

A supply list for students by grade is available here.

Will BPS still provide meals for pickup, like last spring?

Yes. Meals will be available for pickup at Riverside, Lewis & Clark, Medicine Crow and Castle Rock. Multiple meals can be picked up at a time (for multiple days). Normal school lunch meal fees will apply; families are still eligible to apply for free and reduced lunch.

Parents will need to pick up the meal(s) and provide Sodexo with the student name and student ID number for claim/payment processing. Please visit the BPS website for times and additional information.

How will IEPs be served through remote learning?

Students with IEPs or 504 plans will work with a Remote Learning Team to develop individual Remote Learning Plans (RLP). The RLP will be based on each student’s IEP goals, instructional accommodations, supplemental aids and services, and transition plans. The RLP will focus on goals that can be successfully delivered in the virtual environment, ways the student can access instruction, and how progress will be monitored.

Some students with related services (speech/language pathology, occupational therapy, social work, etc.) may receive direct services from a special educator or service provider through tele-intervention. For students requiring accommodations, adaptive computer software may be provided. If hands-on intervention or close proximity is necessary to support the student, proper safety protocols will be followed, including face coverings, gloves, and barriers. Students will need to wear a face covering, as long as it does not interfere with the disability or skills being addressed, and use proper hand hygiene

IEP and 504 meetings (for both Traditional and Remote models) will generally be held virtually, although parents may request in person meetings if necessary.

What special services will be available through remote learning? For example, can my child still speak with a guidance counselor?

A counselor(s) will be available to serve students enrolled in the Remote Learning Model, as well as deliver required district curriculum throughout the school year. Counselors may generally meet with individuals or small groups remotely, but in-person meetings may be used with proper safety precautions. For instruction, students will be expected to participate virtually through Google Meet.

Who can I talk to with questions about remote learning?

Parents are welcome to contact their school principal or Becky Carlson, our Remote Learning Administrator, for more information. Ms. Carlson can be reached at or 281-5137.


Will activities happen this fall?

The Montana High School Association has issued detailed guidance for the resumption of Fall activities. That memo is available here. Most activities will resume with restrictions to ensure safety. Details on individual sports and activities can be found on the MHSA website.

In addition, BPS is establishing safety procedures for all athletic and extracurricular activities to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Face coverings will be required when students are physically able to wear them. Water bottles and gear will not be shared. Workouts and practices will be done in cohorts, keeping groups of students together. Additional details on safety protocols for activities can be found on pages 22-23 of the BPS Reopening Guide.

Are major events, like the state music festival, cancelled for 2020-2021?

The All-State Band, Choir and Orchestra Music Festival, previously scheduled for October 2020, has been cancelled by the Montana High School Association.  The event will not be rescheduled during the 2020-2021 school year.

There will be no multi-team events (triangular, invitational tournaments, etc.) in the sports of football, soccer and volleyball.  Golf and Cross Country can hold multi-team events with certain restrictions.  Non-conference AA football and volleyball games have been cancelled.

The Montana High School Association will continue to monitor public health information to make a determination on additional multi-team events later in the season.

Will school assemblies take place this fall? What about field trips?

Schools will begin the school year operating in a restrictive mode, meaning that large, unnecessary gatherings of students will not be held. Field trips and building access for guest speakers will be suspended during the restrictive mode of operation.

As conditions warrant, BPS will reevaluate the operating status and may make changes throughout the year.

Will students be allowed to take drivers’ education?

Yes, but with restrictions. Drivers’ Training will have limited class sizes to help maintain physical distancing and daily pre-screenings. Students and staff are required to wear face coverings and practice good hand hygiene. Classrooms will be cleaned and sanitized after each use. Students who cannot attend class due to a COVID-19 reason will have access to online coursework.

For behind-the-wheel instruction, passengers in the car will be limited to two students and one instructor. Face coverings are required, and students will have the same driving partners for the duration of the course. The car will be cleaned and sanitized following each use.

If I have a child who can safely participate in activities – cross country, for example – but I still prefer remote instruction for the school day, will that be allowed?

Students using the Remote Learning Model who can safely participate in extracurricular activities at their school are welcomed to do so. Parents must provide appropriate gear, including face coverings, and conduct daily health screenings prior to practices, workouts, meetings, or events.

How will extracurricular clubs and activities (non-athletic) take place during the school year?

Each extracurricular club is being reviewed individually. As long as we can put together an appropriate safety plan that follows all guidelines as set forth by the Yellowstone County Health Department, we will allow clubs and activities to take place. Speech and Debate, along with all sport activities, must follow guidelines as set forth by the Montana High School Association as well as the YCHD. Prom and other dances are separate activities that will need to be reviewed by school and district administration for approval.

Will spectators be allowed at high school and middle school games?

Not at this time. By Order of the Yellowstone County Health Officer, only teams, team staff, and game management will be allowed to attend events. No fans or spectators will be allowed at this time. The Order contains additional, detailed safety precautions for games and practices.

The Order can be read here.

PPE and safety measures

Will masks be required for the 2020-2021 school year? What kind of masks should be worn? Do parents need to supply masks?

Face coverings will be required of students and staff while in school, class, and when appropriate, during extra-curricular activities. When outdoors, students and staff may remove face coverings if physical distance can be maintained.  Teachers will work to incorporate mask breaks throughout the day, allowing students to safely remove their masks for short periods of time.

It is strongly encouraged that face coverings be provided by families or individuals to maximize comfort and fit. Disposable masks or reusable cloth face masks are acceptable. Reusable cloth masks should be washed daily. Clear plastic face shields for students are not permissible unless a face covering is also worn, but face coverings with plastic cutouts over the mouth are acceptable.  Bandanas are not an acceptable face covering. Masks are preferred over neck gaiters, but gaiters will be allowed if that is what works best for your student.

All face coverings must comply with Billings Public School policies on Student Dress.  Face coverings should not feature threats, violence, weapons illegal activities, drug or alcohol use, derogatory or obscene language, sexually explicit or suggestive language, gang membership or affiliation, or otherwise be disruptive.

What if my child can’t wear a mask? Will my child have to participate in remote learning?

Individuals who cannot wear a face covering due to a documented medical reason(s) can participate in the Traditional Learning Model but will be required to follow physical distancing and hand hygiene protocols to ensure the safety of others and themselves.

If a teacher or child has sensory or health issues that prevent face coverings, how will that person be accommodated?

Individuals who cannot wear a face covering due to a documented medical reason(s) or other special needs will be required to follow physical distancing and hand hygiene protocols to ensure the safety of others and themselves. Specialized personal protective equipment may also be used.

How will students be treated if they just won’t wear a mask or if they are playing with the mask?

Teachers will be spending time with their students at the start of the year to establish new rules and routines, including getting students used to wearing masks for long periods of time. Parents can support this effort by practicing at home now and talking with their children about the importance of safe practices.

Students are not expected to be perfect, and patience will be needed by everyone as our schools adapt to these new requirements. Our experience from summer school this year has shown that students generally do well with the mask requirement.

No one system or precaution can completely eliminate the risk of disease transmission. Our goal is to reduce and manage risks where possible to create a safer environment for learning.

Will schools be taking temperatures at the door?

No. There is insufficient evidence at this time to support taking temperatures as a precaution – especially when considered against the risks of students or staff congregating at a door for a lengthy period of time.

Parents and staff are asked to conduct a daily health screen, as outlined in the BPS reopening guide, prior to leaving the house each day.

Will physical distancing be required in schools?

To the extent possible, yes.  We recognize the strict enforcement of physical distancing with students is unlikely.  However, classrooms will be arranged to allow as much physical distancing as possible. In some cases, like small group work at a round table, physical barriers may be used instead.  Teachers will work with students to distance when lining up to enter or leave the building.  Outdoor instruction is encouraged as well.

Physical distancing in hallways will be encouraged.  However, the short amount of times that students pass each other in hallways is not as significant of a risk as longer classroom periods. An “exposure” for purposes of public health is considered to be close contact of more than 15 minutes.  Hallways don’t represent this type of risk.

Staff will be expected to follow physical distancing requirements during staff meetings, Professional Learning Communities, and other meetings. Parent-Teacher Conferences during the school year may need to be held remotely.

What are the cleaning protocols going to be like in schools? What about outdoors?

All school buildings have been deep cleaned and disinfected over the summer and continue to be cleaned and disinfected daily as they are used. Custodial staffing will be adjusted to perform increased routine cleaning and disinfection during the school day, especially for frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, desks, handrails and light switches.

All classrooms and restrooms will be disinfected at least twice per day when school is in session. Each school will receive ionizing disinfecting sprayers and each classroom will have disinfectant for staff to use as needed.

Outdoor cleaning protocols are still being determined.

In addition to improved disinfection, some physical modifications have been made to school facilities.  Plexiglas shields have been installed in all of the main office areas in schools. Additional barriers may be used in areas such as counseling offices, school isolation health rooms, and in classrooms as needed for small group learning instruction. All drinking fountains have been disabled; however, some bottle filling stations will remain in operation, if possible.

Is the district going to be limiting access to the building – for example, will volunteers or visitors be allowed in during the school day?

We will begin the school year in a restrictive mode, meaning that volunteers and visitors will not be allowed in the school building. This operating status will be reviewed regularly throughout the year.

Illnesses and health precautions

What are the procedures if a student or staff member gets ill during the day?

Anyone who presents with possible symptoms of COVID-19 while at school will be moved to a designated health room for isolation. Students will be visually monitored at all times.  If possible, an isolated restroom will be available for use. Clear barriers may be used in the health rooms to block the spreading of illness via respiratory droplets.

A school staff member will contact families for student pick up; families will be strongly encouraged to contact their healthcare provider for further guidance. It is essential that all parents/guardians review their emergency contact information and ensure the school has the most current information.  Schools should also be immediately notified of any changes in contact information throughout the school year.  If it is often difficult for you to leave work, please develop a backup plan now.

Will I be notified if a child or staff member tests positive for COVID-19?

To ensure student and staff privacy, contact tracing and notifications will be handled by Riverstone Health.  Billings Public Schools will not engage in any notifications related to COVID-19.

If someone at my school tests positive for COVID-19, will the entire school shut down?

Billings Public Schools will follow the guidance of Riverstone Health in determining the appropriate actions following a positive COVID-19 test. Based on current guidance, it is unlikely that a single positive test would result in the closure of an entire school.

What symptoms should I be concerned about for COVID-19?

Please do not send your student to school if they are exhibiting any signs of illness. Your student must be symptom-free without using fever-reducing, cough-reducing, or any other OTC medications.

Symptoms of COVID-19 may include any of the following: fever (temperature greater than 100), chills, new onset cough, shortness of breath, body/muscle aches, fatigue, loss of taste/smell, vomiting, diarrhea, new onset runny nose, and sore throat.

Parents are asked to conduct a daily health check for these symptoms, including a temperature check, before leaving the home each day.  If your student exhibits any of these symptoms, please do not send them to school and consult with your medical provider for further instruction.

How often will teachers be tested for COVID-19?

At this time, the district does not plan to routinely test asymptomatic staff for COVID-19.  This type of testing protocol is not indicated by current public health guidelines  and is likely to contribute unnecessarily to a community backlog in testing.  Staff are asked to conduct a daily health screening and seek guidance from medical professionals if they do show symptoms of COVID-19 or any other illness.

Are there enough substitutes willing to work this fall to cover staff absences?

The district is working hard to ensure adequate substitutes for the school year.  Most substitutes have already indicated a willingness to return this year, as needed.  In addition, the district has increased substitute pay to assist in recruiting additional subs as needed.

General district operations

Why isn’t the district considering a hybrid schedule?

There is not enough evidence to suggest that a hybrid schedule will meaningfully reduce the risk of virus transmission, especially compared to the hardship placed on families juggling a hybrid schedule.  Parents who are uncomfortable with the Traditional Learning Model have the option of using the Remote Learning Model.

Why is the district even considering reopening schools when the school board won’t even meet in person?

The Board of Trustees will resume in person school board meetings on August 17, 2020.  Members of the public are welcome to attend.  Face coverings and physical distancing will be required.

How were the reopening guidelines developed?

The Billings Public School Reopening Guide was developed in consultation with local public health and medical professionals.  Guidance documents from the Governor, Office of Public Instruction, and American Academy of Pediatrics were also reviewed in the process of developing the Reopening Guide. Feedback from parents and staff were also taken into account.

The Reopening Guide was presented to the Trustees and to the public in draft form, as it will continue to be revised and updated based on experience and changing circumstances.

I want to give some comments on the reopening guidelines.  How can I do that?

Members of the public are welcome to offer comments during meetings of the Board of Trustees.  Details on board meetings can be found here.

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