Teachers and classified staff in Billings schools will not be required to wear face masks at school, though their use will be encouraged, and masks will be provided masks for those who want them, according to the head of the teachers union.
Doug Robison, president of the Billings Education Association, said in a Wednesday email obtained by Q2 News that Billings Schools Superintendent Greg Upham had approached him with questions about implementing about mask mandate for teachers and staff in K-8 buildings.
Robison noted in the email addressed to teachers that the district's three largest unions, representing teachers, classified staff and maintenance employees, had signed an agreement June 20 making masks optional for all staff.
After consulting with other teachers and unions, and noting, "the absence of state and county leadership regarding mandating masking," Robison wrote the unions chose to keep the current agreement in place.
The union "highly encouraged" teachers and other employees in classrooms with unvaccinated children to wear masks, Robison wrote. Vaccine doses are not available to children ages 12 and younger, according to CDC guidelines.
According to the agreement, the district must provide face masks or shield for all employees who want them and prevent harassment or bullying of those who choose to wear them.
Yellowstone County had 443 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, the third most in the state behind Flathead and Cascade counties.
Q2 has reached out to Upham and will update this story with any comment.
During the 2020-21 school year, the unions signed an agreement requiring masks for all staff. That agreement fell in line with masking orders signed by former Gov. Steve Bullock.
Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Gianforte, who won election after Bullock was term limited, rescinded that mask mandate for Montana. Felton, in turn, rescinded his mask order for Yellowstone County.
Classes in Billings School District 2 will begin Monday, Aug. 23.