by Travis Mateer
Yesterday the Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) issued an emergency rule regarding masks in schools. Here’s how Governor Gianforte’s office announced the order:
Governor Greg Gianforte today announced the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) issued an emergency rule to promote the role of parents as the ultimate decision makers on matters pertaining to the health of their children, including on the issue of wearing masks in schools.
“Montana students deserve to be back in their classroom in as normal and safe an environment as possible. Montana parents deserve to know their voices are heard in schools when health-related mandates for their children are being considered. They also deserve to know that schools are reviewing reliable data and scientific research about the impacts of mask mandates on students,” Gov. Gianforte said.
“Unfortunately, mandating masks for students is based on inconclusive research that fails to prove masks’ effectiveness in reducing the incidence of COVID-19 in the classroom. Simply put, our children shouldn’t be subject to arbitrary mask mandates when schools can’t follow the science because there’s a lack of meaningful, reliable research. On the other hand, some scientific studies we’ve carefully reviewed undoubtedly reveal the adverse impacts of masking on a child’s health, wellbeing, and development,” Gov. Gianforte continued. “This emergency rule ultimately directs schools to recognize the fundamental rights of parents, and because each child is unique and may face unique challenges, this rule urges schools to empower parents to do what’s best for their children.”
Well, although this sounds great, how will schools respond? Here’s the email from my kids’ school, Target Range, explaining how they’re already compliant with all this:
Good afternoon Target Range families,
Target Range School District has reviewed the emergency rule issued by the Department of Public Health and Human Services, and the District reads the rule as permissive as it specifically provides that school districts “should consider” parental concerns and “should provide” an opt-out system for certain reasons. The District has done both. The District will continue to enforce its face covering guidelines to ensure the safety and welfare of all students and staff.
The School District has received hours of public comment from parents and others in the community on this issue, demonstrating its clear desire to take the wishes of parents into account. Furthermore, the School District provides parents and students the ability to opt-out of wearing a mask. However, should they opt out, they are opting into learning off-campus or virtual learning. The School District is prepared to provide assistance to families looking to exercise that option. Parents/guardians seeking a virtual learning option should contact Principal Barb Droessler.
In addition, if a student has a medical reason for being unable to comply with the face covering guidelines, the District stands ready to have the conversation about what accommodations it can reasonably provide. Parents/guardians should contact Principal Barb Droessler to determine the appropriate steps for requesting a medical exemption. A reminder that appropriate documentation from a medical provider will be needed.
Thank you for your continued support of Target Range School during these uncertain times.
Heather Davis Schmidt
I added the emphasis because Target Range is claiming they have already complied with the DPHHS emergency order, but the ONLY exemption that will be considered is medical. That does not align with the order coming from DPHHS, which reads, in part, like this:
In order to provide for the health, well-being, rights, and educational needs of students, schools and school districts should consider, and be able to demonstrate consideration of, parental concerns when adopting a mask mandate, and should provide students and/or their parents or guardians, on their behalf, with the ability to opt-out of health-related mandates, to include wearing a mask or face covering, for reasons including:
(a) physical health;
(b) mental health;
(c) emotional health;
(d) psychosocial health;
(e) developmental needs; or
(f) religious belief, moral conviction, or other fundamental right the
impairment of which could negatively impact the physical, mental,
emotional, or psychosocial health of students.
So, if parents oppose the mask mandate for their kids, they can engage in more remote learning after proving to the school district that there is a medical reason for doing so.
Here is how I interpret what Target Range is offering: social isolation for the kids and financial hardship for the parents.
There will be much more on this issue in the weeks and months to come. If you want to contribute to the legal challenge of the school mask mandate, click here. As of this morning, $11,700 has been raised.
Thanks for reading.