HELENA – The Gianforte administration’s health department on Tuesday released an emergency rule saying that school districts should give students and parents the option of refusing to comply with a face mask mandate meant to protect from the spread of COVID-19.
But school and education officials said Montana districts are already weighing the concerns of parents, students and staff who oppose wearing masks and offering them options.
“Montana students deserve to return to their classroom in as normal and safe an environment as possible. Parents in Montana deserve to know that their voice is heard in schools when health-related mandates for their children are considered. They also deserve to know that schools are examining reliable data and scientific research on the impacts of mask mandates on students, ”Governor Greg Gianforte said in a statement.
The emergency rule states that schools should give parents the option to opt out of health-related mandates, including wearing a mask or face covering, for reasons such as: physical health ; Mental Health; emotional health; psychosocial health; development needs; or religious belief, moral conviction or other fundamental right the violation of which could have a negative impact on the physical, mental, emotional or psychosocial health of the students.
Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE), said the rule doesn’t really change what schools are already doing when it comes to mask mandates.
If a staff member or student is unwilling to wear a mask, school districts will assess their concerns and offer them options, such as distance learning, she said.
“The governor would do well to continue supporting local control instead of providing disinformation, demagoguery and stirring a political pot that is already making everyone’s lives miserable,” Curtis said.
The MFPE represents thousands of public school teachers across the state.
Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, said school boards already need to consider many of the exceptions outlined in the rule and are trying to find the best way to keep students safe and address concerns parents regarding mask mandates.
After signing the emergency rule, Adam Meier, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said: “A number of scientific studies indicate that universal use of masks in children can be harmful. to their health and development, especially in children with learning or developmental disabilities. The DPHHS respects the power of parents to make health decisions in the best interests of their children, including whether wearing a mask in school is appropriate. The DPHHS would encourage schools to consider all of these factors and implement any mitigation strategies in the least restrictive manner possible to maximize the learning outcomes of children in Montana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of the age. vaccination status due to the high level of disease spread. delta variant across the country. The CDC’s reasoning is because schools provide a gathering environment that makes it easier for the virus to spread, ultimately putting more homes at risk of direct exposure.
Although at the start of the school year, schools in Montana have already had issues related to COVID that have required students to be sent home. Due to exposure to COVID, some schools have already had to implement distance learning for large numbers of students.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with an additional perspective from the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the union that represents teachers in Montana schools.