HELENA – The Gianforte government’s health department issued an emergency rule Tuesday saying that school districts should give students and parents the opportunity to opt out of the mask requirement to protect against the spread of the virus. spread of COVID-19.
But school and education officials said Montana school districts have considered the concerns of parents, students and staff who oppose wearing masks and presented options to them.
“Montana students deserve to be back in their classrooms in the most casual and safe environment possible. Parents in Montana deserve to have their voices heard in schools as health-related duties for their children are under consideration. They also deserve to know that schools are reviewing reliable data and scientific research on the impact of mask wearing on students,” Governor Greg Gianforte said in a statement.
The emergency rule says schools should allow parents to refuse to perform health-related duties, including wearing a mask or face covering, for reasons including: physical health; mental health; emotional health; psychosocial health; development needs; or religious beliefs, moral beliefs, or other fundamental rights whose impairment could negatively impact the student’s physical, mental, emotional, or psychosocial well-being.
Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Officials (MFPE), said the regulation doesn’t really change what schools have been doing, regarding the mandate to wear masks.
If a staff member or student does not want to wear a mask, school districts will consider their concerns and offer them options, such as distance learning, she said.
“The Governor would do well to just continue to support local control instead of providing misinformation, hype, and stirring up a political pot that has already made people’s lives miserable,” Curtis said. ‘ said Curtis.
MFPE represents thousands of public school teachers across the state.
Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana Association of School Boards, said the school board had to consider many of the exceptions outlined in the rule and was trying to figure out how best to stay safe. to students and address parents’ concerns about masking duties.
After signing the emergency rule, Adam Meier, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said, “Several scientific studies indicate that widespread use of face masks among children can affect adversely affect their health and development, especially in children with learning disabilities or developmental delays. DPHHS respects the authority of parents to make health-related decisions in the best interest of their children, including whether it is appropriate to wear a mask at school. DPHHS will encourage schools to take all of these factors into account and implement any mitigation strategies in the most restrictive means possible to maximize academic outcomes for Montana children. ”
The Montana Medical Association, the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Montana Association of Pediatric Psychiatrists, the Montana Nurses Association, and the Montana Primary Care Association contradicted the Gianforte Administration’s assessment about the situation and said the science was there to support the wearing of masks in schools.
“Montana’s medical and nursing communities are behind the research, and the science clearly shows that widespread use of face masks in schools can effectively reduce COVID-19 transmission as part of this approach.” Class-based public health approach to provide safe learning environments for Montana’s students Today’s emergency rule undermines an effective, proven public health measure to help Our kids go to school and our emergency rooms are open.
We have strong research to support masks. Masks protect our children in our classrooms and communities. With cases continuing to soar, wearing masks in schools will help limit our statewide burden of severe health outcomes and reduce avoidable COVID-19 disruptions in schools. learn. “
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that all students (2 years of age and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools wear face masks indoors, regardless of the situation. vaccination status due to the high spread of the delta variant across the country. The CDC’s rationale is that because schools are concentrated, the virus spreads more easily, ultimately putting many homes at risk of direct exposure.
Although early in the school year, schools across Montana had COVID-related issues requiring students to be sent home. Due to COVID exposure, some schools have needed to implement remote learning for a large number of students.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with additional views from the Montana Civil Service Federation, the union representing Montana school teachers and Montana Medical Association.