As schools across Montana started opening their doors this fall, some public schools like Missoula and Butte were requiring masks for all staff and students. Other schools, like Laurel, kicked off the 2021/2022 school year last week without a mask mandate. In Billings, SD2 initially hinted masks would not be required, then announced over the weekend that masks are mandatory and staff could face repercussions if they refuse to comply.

At the Laurel School District board meeting on Monday night (8/23), mask use was in the middle of the agenda and was surely the moment most of the over 220 online viewers were waiting for. Before debate earnestly began on masks, various air purification systems were discussed.  

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Short version.

As of today (8/23) masks are not required for students and faculty at Laurel Public Schools. Board members overwhelming voted to retain the schools current policy (personal choice to wear a mask or not). Of course, that could certainly change. 

Long version.

Board Member Mike Creeden started the discussion regarding mask use by saying he feels that COVID levels at Laurel Public School currently don’t indicate the need for mask use, adding that if/when that time comes, any make mandates be reviewed every 14 days. Board Member Dale Ahrens said he’s received numerous emails from parents, and feels that mask use should be left up to parents. Board Member Brittani Hunter expressed concern of bullying for kids who do or don’t wear masks. 

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What did the parents say?

The first public comment came from a parent who shared the CDC data that masks help prevent the spread of COVID. She also noted the rising case numbers and hospitalizations in Yellowstone County. The next succession of parents who spoke were opposed to mandatory mask use; one noting medical exemptions for her children, another shared concerns about PTSD when her formerly-abused foster child is forced to wear a mask. Another parent mentioned their child's sinus issues from mask use and her high schoolers asthma problems. Most of the public commenters echo’d the message that health issues should be left to the parent/guardian. 

My kids attend Laurel Public School and I have children in class from Kindergarten to Junior.  Last year we chose to do online schooling. Our results were mixed (at best) and our family was generally excited to go back to the classroom this year. For now, they are not required to wear a mask. If it becomes mandatory at some point, we'll do what we have to do.

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