HELENA — Hundreds of people were at the Helena Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday -- both in-person and online -- to comment on the district’s masking policy
HPS Superintendent Rex Wells recommended that masks be mandated for Pre-K through eighth grade, due to high COVID-19 transmission rates in Lewis and Clark County.
Masks would not be mandated if transmission rates are zero to 49 cases in the county.
“Even from the beginning trustees and I say they want to keep students in school, and thus since they are unvaccinated it makes sense for them to wear a mask inside the schools,” said Wells.
Many parents and community members spoke out against masks in schools.
“I would recommend the schools focus on teaching and stay out of healthcare, “said one community member.
Others supported masking—with some suggesting amending the policy to keep masks on district-wide.
“As of right now in Montana, we only have 30% of 12 to 18-year-olds vaccinated and obviously children less than 12 cannot be vaccinated. But with this new Delta variant, 90% of all children vaccinated would be the reach of protection we need,” said Erin Green, a pediatrician in Helena.
The board faced three options; keep the current policy in which masks are recommended, accept the new policy to mandate masks for pre-k through 8th grade or amend the policy.
The board meeting started at 5:30 pm on Tuesday and stretched well into the evening.
The board voted 7-to-1 to adopt the policy 1905, in which Pre-K to eighth-grade students will be masked during the high transmission period and high school students will be recommended to use masks.
Helena schools are not alone in debating the use of masks for students. Missoula County Public Schools will require masks for students and staff while Kalispell public schools will not require face masks.