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Billings Schools superintendent on mask policy: 'Refusal is unacceptable insubordination'

Virus Outbreak Schools
Posted at 9:45 AM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 11:45:09-04

BILLINGS — In a memo sent to all Billings Public Schools employees Sunday, School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham addressed questions about consequences for disobeying the district's new mask mandate, saying "refusal to comply and/or enforce the masking requirement would be unacceptable insubordination and the employee will be disciplined."

Upham reinstated the mandate Saturday afternoon after learning about a COVID-19 outbreak within Billings Skyview's football team. The reversal came two days after saying masks would not be required in schools. SD2 will begin the 2021-22 year Monday.

Sunday's memo went on to say that "if a staff member refuses to comply and/or enforce my masking directive, they are to be placed on unpaid leave for insubordination for a period of not less than five (5) working days, unless he or she comes to the administration before those days are passed and agrees to abide by the directive."

"After those five days have concluded, if the staff member still refuses to comply and/or enforce my masking directive, additional discipline will be considered, up to and including a recommendation for the termination of the staff member’s contract of employment with the School District."

In response, Billings Education Association President Doug Robison issued a note to all teachers union members:

"Given the district’s policy change, the BEA is exploring our next steps in consultation with MFPE, legal advisement, and through meeting with Superintendent Upham. In the interim, I do not encourage insubordination."

Robison told Q2 that Upham asked the union Wednesday to reinstate a mask mandate for all K-8 schools, but the union said it would not grant the request based on a Memorandum of Agreement signed by both parties in June that encouraged masks but did not mandate them. Upham said Saturday that after closer legal inspection, his new directive would supersede the MOA.

Robison's Sunday note addressed that contention.

"If your supervisor gives you a direct order that you feel is in contradiction with your contractual rights please comply (unless you would be in immediate peril) and document the incident."

Both Robison and Upham have agreed throughout the process that keeping schools open is the most important goal all should work towards.