Superintendent: Billings school administrators pushed for limited fan attendance

Health department cited rising COVID cases
Posted at 6:22 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 20:22:38-04

BILLINGS — Billings School District 2 officials advocated for minimal fans while deciding fall school sports restrictions before the county health department cited COVID-19 cases in its decision to bar fans, Superintendent Greg Upham said Wednesday.

“When the discussion started in our offices about possibly a no-spectator rule, I asked (Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton) to reconsider that based on our work that we had done with graduation. I felt that if we could have two members of the household or family attend and then we could physically distance them, it may be a good place for us," Upham said at a virtual news conference.

Upham dropped the idea after listening to Felton compare May COVID-19 positivity rates, the month of graduation, with rates seen in August, he said.

In May, Montana sometimes saw days between the announcement of new cases. In August, the state now consistently adds between 50 and 150 new cases per day.

"At this point in time where there are a lot of cases in comparison to none. (Felton) sent it in a scale to us. That visual image was, ‘oh, okay. I get it.’ So, I dropped the (family tickets) concern at that point in time. (Felton) is really doing what I’m asking our school district to do is open up in a restrictive mode first, be able to evaluate what we’re dealing with and then be able to open if the virus allows us to open. I support (Felton’s) decision in this," Upham said.

Upham said he thinks Felton would rather open things up slowly to see how schools reopening will affect disease spread in Yellowstone County. If the case counts turn for the better, Upham said fans may be allowed back into school events.

"We are going to open up in a restrictive mode. We’re going to watch our data. We’re going to watch our ability to cohort, all of that. As we become more comfortable, fingers crossed, then we’ll start to open it up. I think (Felton) fully understands the importance of parents being involved with their children, that’s a given. He just wants to start in a very restrictive mode and then open it up from there," Upham said.

An online petition to let Yellowstone County fans watch school sporting events already gained more than 9,000 signatures since its creation Wednesday morning.

In a media conference Tuesday, Felton mentioned other community events that may contribute to COVID-19 spread, including the conclusion of vacations and students from across the country returning to Billings college campuses and the conclusion of MontanaFair in Billings.

It seems the only option for Yellowstone County parents wishing to see their kids play ball is to travel to a county with more relaxed fan attendance restrictions. According to our MTN affiliates across the state, much is still undecided in the AA size schools.

Flathead County is not allowing visiting fans to attend, so no luck for parents there. Missoula Public Schools have not made a decision as of Wednesday evening.

Gallatin County is waiting on a decision from the local health department. Cascade County and Great Falls Public Schools have a plan submitted to the health department and are expecting announcements sometime next week. And for Helena in Lewis and Clark County, the decision has not yet been made on fan attendance.

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