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Monforton school officials vote to return to mandatory mask-wearing after heated emergency meeting

Posted at 11:39 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 13:39:10-04

BOZEMAN — On Tuesday night Monforton School officials led their longest meeting since the beginning of the pandemic, making one decision, requiring masks to be worn again inside their schools.

The meeting lasted around four hours with several different options on the table but in the end, the board decided to do one thing, as the board all agreed this decision was "a big one.”

“We’ve seen just over 20 cases of COVID pop up,” says Darren Strauch, Monforton superintendent.

Monforton Mask Vote.jpg

It’s a dilemma that Monforton Schools has seen develop in just the first week of school: follow superintendent Strauch’s recommendation to go back to requiring face masks indoors for students, faculty, and staff like 2020 or have MASKS remain optional.

After hours of heated discussion at Tuesday night’s emergency school board meeting, the board approved the move to mandatory masks indoors six to two.

“This definitely is part of our environment right and unfortunately somewhat of an all-consuming part of environment right now and I know that the staff ultimately wants to teach kids,” Strauch says. “What we’ve been informed of from the health department is that that reduces the amount of contact tracing impact from six feet to three feet and so that could potentially take out a pod of students within the classroom, but would not require a full shutdown of staff and students.”

In less than a week, Strauch says seven cases grew to more than 20, closing the entire sixth and seventh-grade in-school classes and two other classrooms.

On top of that, Strauch points to a shortage in the substitute teacher pool at the root of understaffing issues.

This came before hours of public comment.

“My son is only 11 and he can’t be vaccinated,” says Amber Raile, a Monforton mom supporting the mask requirement. “After staying safe for the last 18 months, he contracted COVID in the first week of school.”

“My son loves Monforton,” says Beth Burns, another Monforton mother in support of optional mask-wearing. “He loves school and when I told him he may be required to wear a mask all day at school again, he asked me if I would find a different school for him to go to.”

Some board members changed their votes.

Monforton parent Saul Martinez and others said the division is understood but not helpful.

“We’re all a part of a team as not only parents at Monforton, but as humans,” Martinez said, video-phoning in from his vehicle. "We need to go back to masks.”

Some spoke multiple times, and some up to 20 minutes, voicing various concerns from quarantines to student health.

In the end, several motions failed, including a tied vote to remain mask-optional.

Board member Tara Gray changed her vote, agreeing that the emergency meeting needed an answer that night.

For now, masks are now required indoors with an option for parents to commit their students to online programs if they don’t want to wear masks.

The board agreed that they will revisit the issue at their regular meeting next week.

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