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Laurel starts school year with masks optional

Posted at 5:45 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 19:45:22-04

BILLINGS — Classes started on Wednesday for Laurel Public Schools, with masks deemed optional by the school board.

“You know, our school board has made that more of an optional thing but recommended and so we've kind of seen both. Some students and staff wear masks, and some don’t, and really what we’ve found is that people are pretty respectful and pretty polite about either opinion and it really hasn’t been an issue. So that’s been a nice thing for this year,” said Jayme Bennington, the head of the science department at Laurel High School.

Sanitation policies, a block schedule to limit travel between classrooms, and mask mandates while on the bus are ways Laurel Public Schools is helping to keep their students and staff safe.

One major change from last year is that Laurel Public School staff is no longer “deputized” through RiverStone Health to do contact tracing.

“What that basically meant is when we suspected or were made aware of a positive COVID case then we had to then go to classrooms, look for those close contacts. Sometimes that involved measurements, that involved getting seating charts out, that involved numerous phone calls to parents and then follow up phone calls to parents. Again, that was anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a week of extra work for all administrators in our county,” said Shawnda Zahara-Harris, the Laurel High School principal.

Instead of administrators doing contact tracing, RiverStone Health has now stepped in to fill that role, which Zahara-Harris says is a huge burden lifted off administrators.

Laurel Public Schools says that have not had any COVID-19 related incidents yet but will continue to monitor the situation during their weekly meetings.