KALISPELL — The Kalispell Public School Board of Trustees voted to keep masks a requirement in school earlier this week. Many parents and students have spoken out for or against the mandate.
“For me, I always wear a mask if I'm in public just out of respect for like a company or other people of course,” Flathead High School student Madison Chevez said.
She and her sister Olivia Chevez -- both students at Flathead High School -- say they will wear a mask, but say they are frustrated how the pandemic has impacted their high school experience.
“It's hard. Like I know my sisters had so much fun throughout high school and so being online and making those transitions -- no student sections, less like socialness -- it's really hard for sure,” Olivia told MTN News.
The trustees unanimously approved continuing the mask mandate, where anyone -- including students and staff -- must be wearing a face-covering in any school district building.
The board received 637 emails of public comment, and 526 were for the mandate and 111 opposed the mask mandate. For many, the mandate allows for kids to go to school safely.
“I mean it's a hard thing for everybody because everybody has different you know opinions and things like that but like he's in school he's being taught things and he's you know it's awesome,” said parent Tavia Buck.
She has a second-grade student at Russell Elementary School and says her son Ezra is grateful to be social again. “I ask like do you care about wearing masks like no like I get to see my friends.”
Other parents have heard the same sentiments.
“I don't care. I don't like the mask mandate. I think they're annoying," commented parent Dana Dortch. "But I think they're necessary. I mean if that's what it takes to keep my kids in school then we will wear a mask.”
Dortch -- who is a mother of a sixth-grade student at Kalispell Middle School and a freshman at Flathead High School -- says families are just trying to do their best to keep their kids in school.
“We're just getting through it one day at a time and you know we're just trying to live with the new normal and do what's best for us and our kids,” Dortch said.
“And we don't all agree but he's kind of have to do what's best for your community and what's best for your family," Dortch added.
"Despite the varying views on this sensitive issue I believe we can find common ground: what we are all going through right now is incredibly hard, we all care deeply about our kids and we all agree that having our children in school is a priority," Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill stated in a press release issued on Thursday.
District-wide 136 staff members and 379 students have tested positive for COVID-19 this school year.