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Box Elder, Rocky Boy schools closing, Chippewa Cree Tribe declares state of emergency

No other local schools have announced closure


March 13, 2020

UPDATED 10:25 a.m. March 15, 2020

Saturday, both Box Elder Public Schools Rocky Boy Public Schools announced they closing in response to the growing COVID-19 crisis while the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation declared an emergency and a 14-day self-quarantine for people who have traveled out of state or to any areas affected by COVID-19, including basketball tournaments.

"We do not want to cause a panic and are urging people to please stay in your homes," the statement released by the Chippewa Cree business committee, attached to this article, said. "It is important to self-monitor for any symptoms anyone in your household may be experiencing."

The release asked people who believe they may have symptoms related to the virus to call the Rocky Boy Health Center at at 395-4486.

The release said the tribe has established an incident command center to "help address the needs of our community during this emergency."

As of Sunday morning, the Havre Daily News has not seen notice that any other local schools are closing.

Box Elder held an emergency school board meeting Saturday when the decision was unanimously passed.

"We've been watching an following what other school districts and states around the country have been doing," Box Elder Superintendent Jeremy MacDonald said Saturday evening. "So we started prepping late last week in case something this like this were to happen. So with the confirmation of the first cases of it in Montana, and the MHSA's decision to cancel the remainder of the basketball tournaments this weekend, we thought it would be best for our students, our staff and out community to take this course of action now.

"We want to be proactive, and not reactive," MacDonald continued. "And one of the things being recommended the most out there right now to help prevent the spread of coronavirus is social distancing. And a big priority in social distancing is closing schools."

Because many students receive free and reduced lunch, food service, transportation and additional staff will continue to provide two meals a day to students at designated delivery points. 

All staff at Box Elder were approved two weeks of emergency leave.

Rocky Boy Public Schools Superintendent Voyd St. Pierre said in a statement released Saturday that "Since our school district is a guest within the confines of the Rocky Boy Reservation, it is appropriate that we support our tribal government and community. With that being said and after consulting with the Board, the Rocky Boy School District will also close its doors for a two-week period, beginning Monday March 16 through Friday, March 27, 2020."

A post on the Hays-Lodge Pole Public Schools Facebook page said a plan of action for those schools will be posted this afternoon. The Board of Trustees have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday. The school district administration is finalizing the district's plan of action and will update that as soon as possible, the post said.

Chinook Public Schools posted on its Facebook page that the schools will have an early release Thursday at 2 p.m. to allow for Google Classroom training to prepare in case closure of the classrooms is needed or mandated.

On Rocky Boy, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Chippewa Cree Tribe is urging anyone who has traveled to areas where exposure to the virus was possible, or to places like this weekend's state basketball tournament, to self-quarantine for 14 days.

"If it infects your school, while your students might not see the worst of the effects of the virus," MacDonald said, "they can take into our homes in our community and we have many families here who are in multi-family homes, so again, we're trying to be as preventative as we can be.

Box Elder staff will develop a continued education plan for students on Monday. The school's Apple ConnectEd Grant allows them to bring educational services to students with internet access, but the school is "planning additional educational services to meet 100% of our learners," according to the release. 

MacDonald noted that there's a lot to still do, and that no timeline for when schools could reopen has been established.

"You see some schools taking two weeks, or some taking off through April, but we don't have a set timeline. Right now, we just don't know what's going to happen. It's a very fluid situation, and things are happening quickly. So we'll constantly keep evaluating the situation and make the most informed decisions we can based off the information we have."

Currently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hill County.

Stay tuned to the Havre Daily News for much more.

Havre Daily News Managing Editor Tim Leeds contributed to this report,


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