Masks to stay in some schools, others still being decided

By 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, February 18, 2021
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Mask wearing in Carbon County schools is now being reevaluated in light of Governor Greg Gianforte rescinding the mask mandate.

Students are in attendance in schools in Carbon County unlike many areas of the country. They have had to follow the statewide mask mandate and many schools have additional protocols as well of their own. Now, with Governor Greg Gianforte lifting the mask mandate last Friday, Feb. 12, the schools are thrown to their own devices to determine the mask guidelines for the safety of students. Clearly, there currently exists a range of opinion among parents and boards. Three of the county schools, Bridger Schools, Red Lodge Schools and Roberts Schools spoke about the decision. 

Red Lodge Schools Superintendent issued a letter to parents stating that “…On Wednesday, Governor Gianforte announced he was rescinding the statewide mask mandate, but said local jurisdictions have the authority to continue enforcing mask/face covering at their own discretion. With this said, we have approved a policy to keep our required mask/face covering policy in place until a time the Board feels we are in a place that we can safely transition to a recommendation level verses a mandate. This policy is not meant to be permanent and is intended completely to prevent spread in our schools; therefore, further protecting our students and staff. We are hopeful that we can move to a recommended policy sooner than later, but with a large percentage of staff desiring vaccinations, we are not in a place (to) do so currently.”

Fitzgerald added, “We are hopeful that our requirement moves to a recommendation sooner than later.”

Bridger School Principal Jim Goltz said after the Governor’s statement, “The school year has gone surprisingly smooth considering everything we have been up against. The question of whether we will continue to wear masks will be deliberated in the near future." 

Roberts School Principal, Alex Ator responded to a request for clarification on the school’s rules for COVID now that the Governor has lifted the mask mandate statewide. Ator said, “Our local school board passed last summer policies and procedures related to school opening. While a lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same.  Currently, the local, state, and federal best practices that are recommended are the following: 

• Wear a mask; 

• Keep space; 

• Stay home when sick; 

• Limit close contacts and large gatherings; 

• Increase hand hygiene; 

• Don’t share contaminated surfaces and Limit touching of the face.”

Ator said, “While Governor Gianforte has lifted the mask order and other restrictions as mandates, we still have many recommendations to follow as a school.  Per the Governor’s order, we are awarded the authority to make the decision on masking and other protocols at the local school board level.  The CDC, DPPHS of Montana, and our local county still recommend that we follow best practices to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

He observed, “Our school’s goal since last spring has been to remain open for our students, staff, and community at large. We feel it is imperative for our student’s social-emotional health and educational growth to stay open in person. Following these procedures helps us isolate cases of COVID-19 quicker and limit the spread to stop ‘superspreader’ events.”

He said, “As you are all aware we work in tight quarters at the school and it is very difficult to follow all procedures at all times. So we have taken an approach of doing our best at implementing all procedures, versus putting all of our efforts into 1 or 2 restrictions. This procedure has worked well and allowed us to stay open. Currently, our board policies and procedures include masking and this will stay in place until further notice. At last month’s school board meeting we discussed a metric, similar to the Governor’s metric that would be lifted when our staff has had access to the 2nd shot of the vaccine.  We felt this was appropriate as we need healthy staff to keep our school open for the students of our community.”

The decision for Roberts will be to keep the masks. “At this time we will be keeping a mask order and other precautionary measures at the school.  We will continue to evaluate the effectiveness and discuss best practices at our school board meetings to ensure we don’t become complacent with restrictions or do not miss a new best practice. If you have any questions or concerns please direct them to Alex Ator, 406-445-2421 or ator@roberts.k12.mt.us.”

He added, “As for school activities, we are highly encouraging our fans to support our team’s ability to keep playing by wearing a mask. Sports are about the kids and please help them out by following common protocols at our games. If you are unable to mask or follow other protocols, we have ensured to stream all local events to allow access.”

Ator adds more information for those wishing to be informed. “Follow below for a few links to best practices at the federal, state, and local levels. I will update as I see new information available” He lists: CDC school guidance Updated 12/31/20 under previous federal administration. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/sc... State DPPHS guidance update on 12/1/20 references the past governors’ order and the CDC for best practices and http://opi.mt.gov/Educators/Teaching-Learning/Special-Education/COVID-19... #9384510892-personal-protective-equipment---updated-1212020.

He state, “Additionally, our county recommendations, do not mandate mask but again recommend all indoor facilities follow a  mask protocol.

https://carbonalert.org/covid-19-incident/. Joliet, Belfry and Luther Schools did not respond by press time. 

 

Mask Update for Carbon County Schools

 

Carbon County Medical Officer Bill George has issued a letter to Carbon County schools regarding the Covid 19 update on the mask mandate

The responsibility and decision on whether to continue to enforce a mask policy in schools and businesses, will now be left up to each individual facility. Several Carbon County schools have reached out to me and my Public Health team team for direction on how to proceed.  All schools that have contacted us wish to continue their present mask policy. I know this is a delicate and divisive issue in our communities.

 Here are my thoughts; please feel free to use them in any messaging to your parents and Board of Directors. 

Though COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are significantly decreased in Montana and United States, we still have a significant amount of active cases which continue to cause some disruption in our schools.

Despite the majority of students in United States continuing to learn virtually, we have shown that safe in school learning and school sports can be done by following our present guidelines.

Absenteeism has decreased from all respiratory infection causes since distancing, hygiene, and masking have been an enacted.

-Montana is one of the few states which has only had one dramatic surge of COVID infections. As new viral variants increase in prevalence, there is a strong possibility of a significant rise in cases in the next few months.

-Following State and Federal recommendations, the Carbon County Board of Health has recommended that masking indoors in public areas where distance is not assured be continued. We will continue to adapt this recommendation following expert opinion and facts on the ground.

-As we continue to vaccinate Montana(n)s, including our school staff in the next phase, I strongly recommend that all Carbon County schools continue their present safety policies including the mask requirement. 

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