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Walkout planned by ‘Students for Optional Masks’

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | March 8, 2021 5:21 PM

A group of high school students who want masks to be optional in schools have planned a walkout today in protest of Kalispell Public Schools’ decision to continue a mask mandate as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Glacier High School junior Kate Opre is one of the co-organizers for the walkout, which is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. at both Glacier and Flathead high schools.

“The governor of Montana recently lifted the state mask mandate and the students and their families now want to be able to have the ability to have an individual choice for masking or unmasking their students,” Opre said.

The school board unanimously voted to revise a district policy to reflect the continuation after hearing hours of testimony from students, teachers, parents and doctors during a special board meeting on Feb. 24.

“We feel the students of the schools were not represented in the board’s decision,” Opre said, adding that the unanimous vote does not reflect “any diversity of thought.”

“We’re basically raising awareness of what the students feel, the community feels and the parents feel,” Opre said about why students wanted to organize a walkout.

Opre said the hope is that the district will lift the requirement and make masks optional.

“We’re not against other people wearing masks. We want it to be optional to wear,” she said, adding that she feels the physical distancing and regular disinfection of classrooms and shared spaces she has seen go on at Glacier should be adequate.

Opre said it is her understanding that students whose parents do not call to excuse them prior to participating in the walkout will be considered an unexcused absence and will not be allowed to make up missed assignments or participate in after-school activities that day, which, she said, could have lasting repercussions and believes it is an attack on First Amendment rights.

According to district Policy 1905, “a face covering, mask, or face shield” is required in schools “regardless of vaccination status,” with some exceptions such as: when eating, drinking, engaged in strenuous activity or if a person provides documentation from a care provider for a medical/developmental condition to administrators. Students may also remove masks or face shields when people are not present. Staff may also remove face coverings if they are at an individual workstation and maintaining six feet of distance to others.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.