As we struggle to open schools (and we’ll soon transition to keeping schools open), we are confronted with the difficulty of finding the right metrics to measure safety.  When is it safe to open schools face-to-face?  How can we monitor community spread to know when we should transition to hybrid or remote? And vice versa?  Every day at 10 am in Montana, the state-wide numbers of new cases are released.  But is that the only metric?

I watched a great webinar from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  It’s 30 minutes total with all the main points surfacing in the first 15 minutes.  I highly recommend.  In the webinar they introduce a simple metric that every school leader can track as well as every school parent.  The 7-day rolling average of new cases per 100k residents is a clear indication of community spread and can be used to guide school leaders in their decisions about the appropriate school model.

Every one of us wants to be face-to-face in a safe environment.  But we’re all fighting information and disinformation from all fronts.  Let’s agree to use the interactive charts on which are updated by county every day.  Check it out.  Share it with your parents.  Give them the information and the guidance below.

I suggest we use the color codes (correlated to the same 7-day rolling average metric) to determine which model is best.  Here’s a look at what it would look like:

Color 7-day rolling average School Status
Green >1 case Face-to-face with social distancing and masks
Yellow 1<10 Face-to-face with strict protocols of social distancing, health checks, masks, etc.
Orange 10<25 Hybrid model with smaller cohorts and a mix of face-to-face and remote learning
Red >25 Remote learning only


A few considerations/exceptions:

  • Schools could move to a higher level for the first two weeks of school or the first two weeks after a break. So, for instance, Lewis and Clark County is currently at 6.5 which would put it squarely in yellow.  But for the first two weeks of school, it might make sense to move to orange.
  • We can’t shift every day so schools would need to determine if they are making the call every week (Thursday?) for the following week or if they are going with two-week or monthlong increments.
  • For older and more crowded schools, they might have to automatically move to a higher level. We simply might not be able to get the distancing and ventilation we need in those environments.
  • We cannot depend on our local health departments, governor’s office, or any other state agency to adjust to our local situations fast enough.


It might make sense for all of our parishes and schools to use this same metric.  If a county goes into red, for example, it doesn’t make sense for Mass to be celebrated face-to-face or school to meet.  We have to get people away from prolonged exposure to shared air in enclosed spaces in those situations.

Share the metric, use the guidance, and let’s hope we can instill confidence in our schools.