The topic was mental health issues during the COVID 19 pandemic on the City Club monthly discussion on Monday morning.

Facilitator Susan Hay Patrick introduced guests from the Western Montana Mental Health Center, Partnership Health and Missoula School District One’s superintendent Rob Watson.

Dr. Watson described the trauma that students have undergone switching from traditional classroom instruction to remote learning in the space of just a few days right after spring break.

“We know that trauma has impacts not only on our workplace, but also on the way students learn,” said Watson, in his first year as the MCPS Superintendent. “We understand that now better than we ever have before just about the impact of trauma and trauma events. We understand that when kids come back they will be still living through some of that trauma and it is going to affect their learning, not just for some, but for a large percentage of kids.”

Watson said when school resumes in August he expects different levels of readiness by students in all grades.

“We also know that kids are going top come back at different spots in terms of their education,” he said. “What we have to do during those first few weeks of school is to strengthen the diagnostic checks, and that means more frequent checks for understanding of our students, making sure that we’re checking to see how they’re progressing and if they need special support. That will also help us to determine how much time we need to spend reviewing some material they may have missed last spring.”

Watson said there is no firm guidance yet, other that a firm intention on resuming in classroom instruction in August.

“We haven’t released anything formal yet,” he said. “We are starting to create some documents that will give folks an idea of what it might look like, but what I have learned is that we have to be very flexible and we have to plan for multiple scenarios as the case counts go up or down and with guidance or direction from the health department, we’re really going to have to be flexible.”

Watson reiterated that in August there will be different phases of implementation dependent upon the students’ progress in remote learning in the spring.

“We’re planning on a ramp-up program for a select number of students,” he said. “These are students that we’ve identified as those who have really struggled in the spring, and we’ve invited those kids to come back a few weeks early. We’re going to start that in August and I think this will really be great because it will help ups define what the fall will look like and help us determine what works and what doesn’t work for kids.”