Regarding Masks Mandates, Montana Governor and State Superintendent Urge School Boards, Administrators to Listen to Parents and Science

Governor Greg Gianforte (left), MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson (middle), State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen (right).
Governor Greg Gianforte (left), MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson (middle), State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen (right).

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Governor Greg Gianforte and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen released a joint statement Friday addressed to Montana superintendents and school board trustees regarding school reopenings. The letter urges school leaders to listen to parents when considering mask mandates and to also consider primary data from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services when making their decisions.

“While the CDC has repeatedly changed its mask recommendations over the last 16 months, trustees and superintendents should give due consideration to available data and the voices of Montana parents as it relates to whether their children are required to wear masks in schools,” the joint letter stated.

Noting mounting public pressure from Montana parents the joint letter stated, “As we have heard from hundreds of parents across Montana, it is critical our kids get back into the classroom in as normal a setting as possible so they may learn, develop, and grow.”

“We have heard from parents throughout the state who are concerned about the impact of universal masking on their kids’ academic, emotional, and social development, particularly for elementary-aged students and students with disabilities and who believe strongly that wearing face masks and other coverings should be optional, voluntary, and a matter of family choice,” state leaders said.

On Wednesday, a day after considerable public comment at the MCPS “COVID Task Force” meeting, Missoula County Public Schools’ Superintendent Rob Watson cancelled in-person admission to the upcoming MCPS Board of Trustees Public COVID Reopening Plan Meeting set for Tuesday. Later that day, Watson also distributed a draft letter meant for parents to staff and educators which mandates masks for students for the 2021-2022 school year “until further notice.”

A petition was created by one Missoula Mom, Amy Livesay, which called for parental choice when it comes to mandating masks. “For the 2021-2022 school year, masks should be optional for all students K-12. To wear a mask or not wear a mask should be a family choice, not a school district mandate,” Livesay wrote. The petition has garnered over 650 signatures since Tuesday afternoon.

State leaders’ joint letter also called on superintendents and school boards to consider primary data from the DPPHS when making their decision about masking stating, “DPHHS officials have data on the virus’ transmission rates among school-age children, as well as incidents of severe complications from the virus among children, including hospitalizations and death.”

Michael Gehl, an MCPS School Board trustee, offered public comment at the “COVID Task Force” meeting Tuesday noting that the DPPHS reported no deaths from school age children from COVID-19 since the pandemic began,

“The conversation that I would like to be hearing, is ‘what is best for the child’.  But what I’m hearing is fear.  Unfounded fear, clearly demonstrated by the latest statistics from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services,” said Gehl. 

“Absolutely no child died in the entire state from COVID.  Actually, the youngest death was 23.  This is a virus that affects grownups and seniors the most.  And to be most accurate, 74% had pre-existing conditions,” Gehl said.

MCPS leaders have not cited any primary data to indicate that masking students, staff, or educators leads to a statistically significant reduction in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, referring only to CDC guidance and a letter from a professional association.

The joint letter also gave deference to parents when it comes to administering the COVID-19 injection to their children saying, “Parents are the primary decision makers for their children’s health matters, and they must be at the center of any discussions on vaccinations.” The Montana Daily Gazette reported that Missoula County Public Schools allegedly administered a dose of the COVID-19 injection to a child without parental consent in late June.

“As we all prepare for students to return to the classroom for the 2021-2022 school year, we join parents, students, and educators in looking forward to a return to normalcy in learning for those whose lives and educational opportunity were disrupted over the last 17 months,” the joint letter stated.

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Roy McKenzie

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4 Comments

  1. […] Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen and Governor Greg Gianforte also released a joint statement in August advocating for parental choice regarding masking of children. A lawsuit has been filed […]

  2. […] virus that can cause COVID-19. The State Superintendent and Governor Greg Gianforte also released a joint statement advocating for parents and the ability for parents to choose what is best for their own […]

  3. […] order, issued by Montana’s health director Adam Meier, reenforced a similar joint statement released from the Governor and the Office of Public Instruction at the beginning of […]

  4. […] the beginning of August, the Governor and State Superintendent released a joint letter which amounted to an “urging” of school boards to follow the science and listen to […]

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