The head of Montana’s largest and most powerful teachers union, the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE), is calling on all schools to cease in-person classes and go all-virtual in light of the recent death of a Montana educator.
Ken Maddox, 69, who taught at East Middle School in Great Falls, passed away last Saturday from what family members describe as a “COVID-related illness.” It is not known if he had any co-morbidities, but that description reads like catching the coronavirus exacerbated another already-present health issue.
Still, the sad passing of Maddox prompted MFPE president Amanda Curtis to insist it was the last straw and that the schools be shut down to save lives.
“We cannot continue to have schools operating In person when restaurants, bars, and school activities continue to exacerbate community spread.
Montanans must wear masks in all public areas, and businesses must be held accountable for noncompliance.
Additionally, all school districts, boards, and administrators must continue to do everything in their power to enforce public health guidelines, including mask-wearing, social distancing, and quarantining.”
It’s not just her. The Montana Nurses Association is also urging schools to shut down classes until the new year, calling on a 5-week “reset” (i.e., shutdown) to flatten the curve of rising case numbers, with MNA Chief Executive Officer Vicky Byrd saying, “The goal of having children attend school in person — which is how they learn best — will only be safe when our communities have the virus spread under control.”
When it was pointed out that schools in some communities in Montana haven’t been a big source of spread of the virus, if at all, and this broad closure doesn’t makes sense, she insisted otherwise:
“It only takes one case in those rural areas to completely devastate the health care system there in our very rural areas like Cutbank or Forsyth. We know that what makes our communities whole is the school and the healthcare facility. And we know that in-person learning is the best for these kids, but it can’t truly happen safely because even though it might impact the kids at a lower level, we’ve got teachers, support staff, janitors that are not of those school age, that won’t be as protected. And until we get the community surge under control, we are going to continue to recommend taking advantage of this holiday season and just stay home from school.”
While many schools in Montana are still having in-person classes, albeit socially distanced and while wearing masks, others have gone the opposite direction. They’re going all-virtual, doing a mixture of two weeks on two weeks off, rotating schedules, doing distance learning, and even some schools already closing until January 2021. This is not taking into account regular breaks and pauses to quarantine or having to have school off because someone else is quarantining for two weeks.
It’s no wonder why homeschooling in Montana has spiked 62% these last few months, with logistical nightmares aplenty for parents trying to make these ever-changing practices work.
If the teachers union and other medical professionals have their way, however, it’s only a matter of time before the locks are on the school doors and Montanan children will be looking at their teachers through webcams, whether it makes sense or not.