Billings School Board votes to give superintendent discretion over mask policy
BILLINGS – Billings School Board administrators voted unanimously on Monday to change its COVID-19 face mask policy to give the superintendent discretion over whether face coverings will need to be worn by staff and students from Billings Public School.
“This is a recommendation that was presented to us by our legal team. They believe this is a prudent step that allows the Superintendent to be nimble if issues arise and need to be resolved, ”said Board Chair Greta Besch Moen.
Politics 1905 was already passed by administrators on Jan. 25 and required school staff and students to wear masks except in certain situations. Students and staff wore masks for the 2020-21 school year, but could throw them away from summer school in June on instruction from Superintendent Greg Upham.
Billings students and staff will return to class on August 23 and will likely not be required to wear masks, Upham said.
“It is surely our intention that on August 23, we start the school year with the optional masking. We hope this decision is in the best interests of all parties,” said Upham.
Other changes to the school day include the removal of block schedules for middle and high school students. Additionally, administrators will not be responsible for tracing contacts if a case of COVID-19 presents itself in the classroom, Upham said.
“We will not be doing a contact tracing this year. That authority has ended. We are currently in discussions with RiverStone Health on what it will look like in the future,” said Upham.
The amended mask policy leaves it up to the superintendent whether or not to require masks at Billings Schools. It also requires the superintendent to regularly inform administrators of the district’s COVID-19 protocols, including masking.
Ahead of the director’s vote, the board heard about an hour of public commentary from parents in Billings speaking out against the mask policy. Many have said that it should be a personal choice whether a student should wear a mask. Others said the mask policy amendment gave too much power to the superintendent and allowed him not to need the approval of the trustee before making a decision.
“I’m just asking you to make masks voluntary. Give parents, students and teachers a choice and remove the 1905 policy. And on top of that, don’t allow administrative letters to be sent home recommending vaccination Student COVID for a 99 percent survivable virus, ”said Tara Goodwin, a teacher at Billings and a mother of four students.
As of July 14, 605,905 Americans have died from COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. In Montana, 1,692 people have died from COVID-19, according to the condition tracking card. Click here to read the CDC’s recommendations on masks and school vaccinations as of July 2021.
“Do not edit, (instead) delete. Masking should be a personal and parental choice, not yours. I am also here tonight to ask you to lift the state of emergency you entered in March. last and extended indefinitely last July, “another person said in a public comment.
Watch the video below to see the full and other commentary from the meeting.
Many who commented expressed disappointment at the lack of human connection brought about by the hybrid board meeting format at Lincoln Center. District administrators and staff were in their regular meeting rooms and some participated by video call. Public commentary was taken by video call from the Lincoln Center auditorium, a location entirely separate from where the directors were.
The district’s amended mask policy allows for swift action if the COVID-19 situation worsens in Yellowstone County, Upham said.
“This is not a secret way to invoke masking. It is meant to give us ongoing tools in the toolbox in case we need to act fast or be nimble with whatever is presented to us. that we don’t need to hide. I hope we go into the year as normal as possible. And another thing that I hope is that everyone is safe, all of our students and our staff, ”said Upham.
Upham has indicated that he will continue to rely on the Unified Health Command to make informed decisions about COVID-19 safety measures at Billings Schools. The Unified Health Command consists of Yellowstone County public health officials, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare, and infectious disease specialists.
“Things can change pretty quickly. This is not the intention to be veiled or disguised as masking. We recognize that my office fully recognizes the challenges that some make. We also recognize the science and recommendations of our professionals. health, ”said Upham.
Upham said there had been no outbreaks of COVID-19 to his knowledge that came from students not wearing masks in the biggest summer school offering district staff have ever undertaken.
The district will also begin the new year without a stand-alone distance learning platform, with a majority of students returning to face-to-face classes. Upham said school staff will make distance learning accommodations for students with physical or mental health issues. Parents should contact their school principal as soon as possible to make arrangements for their student, Upham said.