By Tim Leeds 

Some local schools, governments keeping COVID restrictions in place


Last updated 4/24/2020 at 2:19pm

While Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday that, starting Sunday with places of worship, the state will allow some loosening of restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is up to local jurisdictions - and some north-central Montana governments already have said they will not loosen restrictions.

The Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and the Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation both announced their restrictions will stay in place.

The Box Elder Schools superintendent said those schools will remain closed to in-clasroom teaching for the remainder of the year, and the superintendent of Rocky Boy Schools said a school board meeting will be held where the board will decide whether to continue with distanced learning also.

And Montana State University-Northern said it will continue with its procedures through the end of the semester - although that is one day after the governor is allowing schools to reopen their classrooms if they desire.

The restrictions came about after novel coronavirus 2019, which causes the illness COVID-19 that can spread rapidly and can be fatal, was discovered in China late last year then spread to the United States and other countries around the world.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian March directed campuses of the Montana University System to convert to online classes or remote learning programs to reduce the spread of the virus, the same day Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency.

The next day, the first four cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Montana.

Rocky Boy, then Hays-Lodge Pole and Havre schools declared they were closing their classrooms that weekend, and the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation declared an emergency and implemented curfews and stay-at-home or self-quarantine orders, then, late Sunday, March 15, Bullock ordered all K-12 public schools to close, and most parochial schools followed suit.

Wednesday, Bullock said that with numbers of new cases dropping - the state has seen 11 new cases so far this week, with none confirmed Sunday - and examining the ability of communities to test for the virus and their capacity to handle patients, he was starting a phased lifting of restrictions, with Phase One starting Sunday with places of worship allowed to hold services if they maintained social distancing requirements and Main Street and retail businesses allowed to open, again under restrictions, Monday.

Bullock said schools could decide if they wanted to reopen their classrooms starting May 7.

The Fort Belknap tribal government announced Wednesday it would not be lifting restrictions. Residents are told to continue to follow the stay-at-home directive, self-quarantine as necessary and that the 10 p.m. curfew would remain in place.

The Chippews Cree tribal government announced Thursday that it will not be deviating from its plan of action, including keeping in place its stay-at-home and 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. mandates and the checkpoints it has on the roads into the reservation.

The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians posted on its Facebook page that it is recommending its members continue to stay at home until the curve further flattens.

Box Elder Schools Superintendent Jeremy MacDonald made an announcement that that district will continue to keep its classrooms closed and use distanced learning. The district will continue to deliver meals, he said.

Rocky Boy Schools Superintendent Voyd St. Pierre said a special meeting of the school board will be held in which the board members will vote on whether to keep the classrooms closed and continue with its distanced learning programs.

"The reasons 'why' (to keep the classrooms closed) far outweigh the reasons 'why not,' he wrote in his statement.

Havre Public Schools has a special board meeting scheduled for Tuesday in which the board will vote on whether to reopen the classrooms.

And Montana State University Chancellor Greg Kegel said in a letter to the campus community that the university will continue with the safeguards and procedures it has in place at least through the end of the semester, May 8.

He said Northern has been working on plans to reopen the university in phases through the summer and fall.

Watch for more details in Monday's edition of the Havre Daily News.


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