Montana’s Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, Elsie Arntzen, says she is tired of being bypassed by outgoing Governor Steve Bullock on a matter as important as his guidance on opening the state’s public schools.

Arntzen said Bullock has ignored numerous calls from her office about sharing information regarding the return to school.

Arntzen said she even called the state of Montana's general number to contact the Governor.

“I believe it's shameful,” she said. “There isn't a win in anybody's column, because this is about our children. It's about our future. And not only that, it's about the employees that are in school and our teacher leaders that are looking to see that school doors are going to open in, oh gosh, three weeks. So it's exceedingly important that there be communication.”

On March 3rd, the Governor created Montana’s Coronavirus Task Force, leaving out a significant sector impacted by COVID-19; the education community. Under pressure, the Governor’s staff finally allowed the Office of Public Instruction to participate, however, she said communication directly from the governor has been sorely lacking.She said the only contact has been from the governor's chief of staff.

“We received a memo and the memo isn't on letterhead,” she said. “The memo is just a page and a half of information flow. But we don't do memos in Montana. Great government should be picking up that phone. Even in our world we can social distance, we can mask up, and we can have a conversation because this is about our students. This is about our schools and our school employees. So this is not a political play. And if there is to be a win-win in this, it needs to have a great communication based on our students in a safely reopening manner of our public schools.”

One of the policies for which Arntzen is seeking clarification is the usage of masks for younger children, especially those in counties where there is a mandatory masking order.

“You have said that counties have four COVID cases or more are masking up for all individuals of five years old and older, but from your office governor, we have received a difference of opinion from your staff. So it's unclear. Would you please clarify for us whether or not pre-K children should wear masks should adults that serve these children wear a mask?”

Arntzen said she is seeking the guidance that only the state’s chief executive can give when it comes to opening up the over 400 state public schools.

“If you would please instead of giving us in congruent messages, give us a message that's based on safety so that I can then at the state level, transfer that message to our school leaders so they can safely reopen schools,” she said.

Arntzen closed her op-ed with this statement:

‘The Governor continues his negligent disservice to Montana’s students, families, and educators. My agency has in good faith and in the spirit of cooperation offered language, data, and support to aid good decision-making. In fact, a great deal of OPI employee time has been spent remedying the education-related errors in the Governor’s directives. These mistakes needlessly occurred and wasted resources that could have been used for serving students. I urge the Governor to join me at the table working for our students, families, educators, and the great employees of the OPI.’

Montana's public schools are scheduled to open later this month.

More From Montana Talks