Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson said this week that there is no move afoot to return to Phase Zero, which is 100 percent remote learning, despite the rapidly increasing number of positive COVID 19 cases.

“We're still operating in person learning, and we've still got our students on the hybrid learning model, which is sort of a blended model of some in person and some remote learning,” said Dr. Watson. “So for a lot of students what that means is two days a week in school and then three days a week in remote learning. We also have 1,700 students that are enrolled in the Online Academy which, by request is 100 percent remote learning.”

Watson expanded on the issue of high COVID rates in the community, and whether the school district should return to 100 percent remote learning.

“That's something that the board will talk about during discussion,” he said. “It's not a recommendation that's coming from our committee right now. Our committee has looked at the numbers, both the district numbers and the county numbers. I think what is most concerning is that we have seen as a committee incident rate, the number of new cases per day per hundred thousand is very, very high for Missoula, as well as the test positivity rate.”

Watson said that, in fact, it’s easier to control the spread of coronavirus in a school setting.

“We also know that when we have kids in a structured environment like school, it can also help reduce community spread because when they're in school and they're in face coverings and they are distanced, they're in a structured environment,” he said. “So it is a balance. We believe as a committee that it's important to keep at least some in person learning as long as we can for that relationship between the teacher and the student.”

Dr. Watson said the numbers prove that children are safer from COVID while they are involved with school.

“We've tracked the numbers of new cases and active cases each week,” he said. “Just for example, last Friday, we had 22 active cases in our school district, and when I compare that to the number of active cases per 10,000 people in the county, if you do the math per 10,000, there were about 87 active cases per 10,000 in the county. And the reason I'm choosing 10,000 is because we have about 10,000 students and teachers when you add them all together.”

The Missoula County School Board will meet at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday evening.