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Billings superintendent targeting mid-January to end mask mandate in schools

Could come sooner with judge's order
Billings public schools resuming alternative bus routes for weather
Posted at 3:30 PM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 19:47:46-05

Superintendent Greg Upham is targeting Jan. 17 to remove Billings districtwide mask mandate, though he acknowledges a court case could force the end to come two weeks earlier.

In a letter Wednesday letter addressed to parents, Upham wrote that his plan is to remove the mandate for teachers and staff on Monday, Jan. 17 (an in-house learning day for teachers) and all students on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

He also noted that plaintiffs seeking to strike down the mask mandate asked a judge to declare face masks are improper for school-aged children. If a judge grants this request for a temporary restraining order, the mask mandate would be paused on the first day back from winter break, Jan. 3, Upham said.

Upham added that similar requests have been denied at other Montana school districts, including Missoula and Bozeman.

Upham had indicated at a mid-November school board meeting that he was hoping to lift the mask mandate in mid-January, assuming COVID-19 case counts remained low in Yellowstone County.

In his letter to parents, Upham also included information on how to put students in remote learning if parents were not comfortable with the lifting of the mask mandate.

He added that masks are still required on school buses and all school transportation.

Read the full letter from Upham below:

Dear Parents/Guardians:

As shared in the school board meeting last night, we are striving for optional masking to go into effect the beginning of second semester, Monday January 17, 2022 (a PIR day) for staff, and Tuesday, January 18, 2022 for all students. If you are in need of virtual learning for your student for second semester, please contact your building administrator for further assistance.

I also want to inform you that this fall, we received notification of pending litigation regarding Billings Public Schools’ Policy 1905, addressing facial coverings. On December 21, 2021, the plaintiffs in the Policy 1905 litigation requested a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”). In that request, the plaintiffs are asking the judge to declare (until the lawsuit is settled) that facial coverings are improper for use with school-aged children. The TRO has not yet been granted and may not be granted following rulings in other school districts similarly situated (such as Missoula and Gallatin County). However, because the TRO could be granted prior to January 3, 2022, our date of return from holiday break, we want to make sure our students, parents, and staff are informed of this potential change.

If the legal process orders the masking policy be lifted prior to January 17, 2022, it is important that our families who rely on face coverings have the opportunity to participate in the alternative educational options outlined below:

K-5: Enrollment in our virtual learning platform, Edmentum, is open as soon as needed. Please know there is a 48-72 hour enrollment processing timeframe, so your student will need to continue to complete assignments through See Saw (primary) or Google Classroom (intermediate) until notified of Edmentum enrollment. The deadline for enrollment is January 14, 2022. Please contact your building principal for more information regarding enrollment and a Chromebook check-out.

6-12: From the effective date of the potential TRO through January 14, 2022 (end of first semester), your student may check out a Chromebook and complete assignments via Google Classroom. Your student will then automatically be enrolled in APEX virtual learning for second semester. If you want virtual learning for second semester only, the deadline to enroll is January 28, 2022. Please contact your building principal for more information regarding enrollment and a Chromebook check-out.

It is critical to remember that regardless of the TRO status or district decisions regarding face coverings, face coverings are still required on all school transportation per the federal mandate.

Thank you supporting your student in the educational journey that is critical for future endeavors.

Please be advised,

Greg Upham