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'Masks encouraged but not required' as Billings SD2 outlines plans for fall

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Posted at 1:21 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 15:21:45-04

BILLINGS – School District 2 is taking a stance on masking come the fall school season, considering a new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage students and school staff to stay masked up come fall.

Superintendent Greg Upham says the district encourages masking in school but does not require it.

The decision comes as the COVID-19 delta variant is pushing the number of cases in Yellowstone County upward.

“In our community right now the delta variant is here and it’s creating an increase in the number of cases,” said Upham.

Upham took to Facebook on Thursday afternoon to virtually address the community on decisions regarding school operations moving forward.

The first day of the 2021-2022 school year is Aug. 23.

He said he’s been in constant communication with Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton on the virus trends and what’s happening with the delta variant.

Still, he wants to move into a pre-pandemic era of school normalcy as much as possible.

“The plan is to start school with masks being encouraged but not required,” he said. “We want to start school as pre-COVID normal as possible.”

Still, there are some concerns over children age 5 to 11 not being offered the vaccine.

In Yellowstone County, the weekly average case count is trending worse, according to Upham, and the delta variant is often referred to by health officials as more contagious and more rapidly moving.

Upham said last year during the pandemic they implemented a variety of changes such as block scheduling, masking, and physical distancing which will all now be tools thrown back into the district’s ‘COVID toolbox’ that can come out again later if need be.

One change from last year that will stay in effect is cleaning.

Upham says it's important for students to get back into the classroom as normal as possible due to the impacts on academics and mental health.

Another big takeaway from Upham’s Facebook talk was that the district will not be offering remote learning as they did a year ago.

School administrators will also not do any contact tracing this year. That role will fall on those at RiverStone Health.

He also reiterated the importance for those who can get vaccinated to do so.