Missoula Parents and School Employees Raise Legal Funds For Mask Lawsuit
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After Missoula County Schools Superintendent Rob Watson shutdown in-person access to school board meetings and finalized mask requirements for students and staff, despite overwhelming demands for parental choice, Missoula parents and school staff are stepping up their fight against the school board’s unscientific mask mandates.
Missoulian and parent Joseph Suchanic took to GoFundMe just over a week ago to raise funds for a legal challenge against Missoula County Public Schools. So far Suchanic has raised over $6,500 with $30,000 dollars as the stated goal. The legal challenge is being taken up by Attorney Quentin Rhoades of Rhoades, Siefert, & Erickson.
Stand Up Montana, the organization that filed suit against the state and Missoula County for COVID-19 response overreach, is joining as a plaintiff on the suit. According to parents familiar with the class action, the law firm notified Missoula County Public Schools this morning of the parents intent to file suit.
“We believe that mask mandates in schools are an infringement upon citizens’ constitutionally-protected rights to make decisions for their families,” Suchanic wrote.
Other Missoula parents including one parent who identified herself as Erin are taking a mixed approach with their children. Like many other Montana parents, Erin and her husband are pulling one of their children from the government-ran school system for homeschooling. The couple’s other school-age child will be attending without a mask in protest with a religious exemption.
Christina, a paraprofessional who has worked with Montana public schools for over seven years said that she would quit if the mask mandate moved forward. “I will quit working for MCPS until their mask policy changes,” she said. Her child also attends Missoula County Public Schools and she is waiting to figure out how she will respond on behalf of her child until after a 7pm meeting of the Hellgate Board of Trustees today. The board is meeting to revise the parental choice mask policy the school board committed to in July.
Frustrated with inaction from Governor Greg Gianforte and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, the school employee said, “I just do not understand how the laws are continually broken and no one in the position of authority is holding people accountable.”
At 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 to listen to parents. Hundreds of parents have reached out to the Governor, State Superintendent, and even Attorney General Austen Knudsen to intervene, but parents have only heard of “possible guidance” coming from the state with no clear timeline on when that would happen.
“I am hoping to get the attention of state regulators to possibly follow the Arizona Governor in providing funding for parents opting out of public school,” the Montana schools employee said. “Maybe they can provide an alternative option, like a private school or even a Christian school.”
The school session has already started in at least one Montana county with videos popping up on Facebook of Montana students being denied access to school campuses by school administrators and staff.
One video shared today by parent Abraham Engholm shows Billings’ Boulder Elementary Principal Mark Venner turning away students who are not wearing masks. To get his child access to in-person instruction, Engholm cited HB-501 which states that no public place can legally trespass someone for not taking a vaccine or wearing a medical device such as a mask. Principal Venner avoided calling the police to trespass the students as the parents pressed him for an explanation.
The schools are not paying attention to science or parents, but instead to Federal COVID-19 relief dollars and the strings attached, according to Tim Ravndal of Conservative News From Montana.
“How that funding actually gets distributed can become very confusing. The Townsend School District Board held a meeting regarding the safe return back to school (SRBS) process on June 22nd 2021. This special meeting was called because of the plandemic policies needed to be extended in order for the district to be eligible for $1.5 million in ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding established by CRSSA (Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act).Plandemic Funding For Schools. Tim Ravndal. Conservative News From Montana. August 12, 2021.
“All federal plandemic funding in the school funding cycle comes delivered with strings attached,” Ravndal shared.
According to the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, the Department of Education “must approve a State educational agency’s plan in order to make the State’s remaining ARP ESSER allocation available for use.” In the State Plan from the Department of Education, educational agencies must respond to how they will implement, “Universal and correct wearing of masks” in order to receive federal relief dollars.
Montana Legislators have been active on the family rights-related Facebook Pages, sharing quips and excerpts from laws passed in this year’s legislative session. State Senator Jedediah Hinkle (SD-32) commented, “SB400” on a Facebook post about the Butte School Board mandating masks for students. SB-400, sponsored by Theresa Manzella (SD-44), Hinkle, and other legislators restricts a government entity’s ability to interfere with fundamental parental rights.
School begins August 30th for Missoula County Public School students.