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Kalispell schools set special board meeting on masks

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | February 22, 2021 3:15 PM

The Kalispell School Board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss and take public comments on the topic of requiring masks in Kalispell schools after Gov. Greg Gianforte recently lifted a statewide mask mandate, leaving the decision up to local jurisdictions.

The meeting will be held at Flathead High School Auditorium. People attending the meeting in person are required to wear masks or face shields that are hooded, or wrap around the face, under the chin.

There is also an option to attend the board meeting remotely. A link to the meeting will be available at www.sd5.k12.mt.us under the heading “latest news,” located in the middle of the home page.

At the meeting, trustees will revisit Policy 1905, which covers masks and other COVID-19 emergency measures and protocols the district adopted in April 2020 and revised in July 2020. Board trustees may take action.

People will have two minutes each to speak during the designated public comment portion of the meeting. Written comments may also be emailed to Covid19response@sd5.k12.mt.us. Written comments must include a person’s full name and physical address or they will not be entered into the record, according to the district. The deadline to submit written comments is noon Tuesday.

PRIOR TO Gianforte’s announcement on Feb. 12, Kalispell Public Schools and other school districts around Flathead County, including Columbia Falls, Evergreen, and West Valley, sent letters to staff and families, notifying them they would continue requiring masks as part of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The decision was made in collaboration with their respective school boards, Flathead City-County Health Department Health Officer Joe Russell and other school leaders in the valley who, “unanimously support continued safety protocols within our schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the letter stated.

Whitefish School District is also continuing the practice. Bigfork School District, however, will stop requiring masks starting March 15 following a 4-3 school board vote last week.

The announcement elicited a response from the Kalispell community, prompting the board to call the special meeting “in light of the community response to the face covering issue,” according to a meeting notice sent to families and staff last Friday.

One of the key reasons some districts are continuing to require masks is because teachers’ access to vaccinations has been delayed. Teachers were moved from Phase 1B to 1C. Currently, the state is in Phase 1B, which includes people who are 70 and older, are between the ages of 16 to 69 with high-risk medical conditions and American Indians or other people of color who may be at an elevated risk for COVID-19 complications.

As of Monday, 14,858 vaccination doses have been administered in Flathead County with 4,806 people fully immunized, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services dashboard. According to a United States Census Bureau 2019 population estimate, there are 103,806 people living in Flathead County.

Outside of the occasional building, grade level, or classroom closure due to the number of people in quarantine, the majority of schools in Flathead County have remained open for on-site learning this school year, which school leaders attribute to the mitigation measures. Some schools also offer remote or hybrid models of learning.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 759-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.