Some ask GFPS to remove mask policy; school board maintains policy

Several members of the public attended the Nov. 22 Great Falls Public Schools board meeting and asked them to revote on the board’s policy regarding health protocols for COVID, particularly masks.

The board voted during their Nov. 8 meeting to revise the policy, removing specific case rates and positivity rates and giving the superintendent the ability to consult an advisory panel of school and health officials, among others, to make determinations on when masks and other health protocols are necessary based on school and community COVID rates.

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After the board approved the policy, the district removed the mask requirement for middle and high schoolers, but maintained the mask requirement for elementary schools.

About a half-dozen people asked the board to reconsider the mask policy to remove masks entirely from schools. More people attended, seemingly in support of those asking masks be removed from schools and the district opened the overflow room for the meeting.

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Julie Bass, a local licensed clinical counselor said she primarily works with adults but has been seeing parents bring their children during COVID.

“We are putting children in a mask which is creating anxiety,” she said.

She said she’s seeing childrens behavior change with disenchantment and no longer wanting to go to school.

Bass said that masks hide peoples ability to speak and communicate and asked the board to “let these children be free.”

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Noelle Johnson, a former GFPS teacher, asked the board to end their declared emergency saying it’s no longer needed.

Many other large school districts in the state also have maintained the declared emergency and have some form of mask requirements, to include Billings, Bozeman, Helena and Missoula.

Katrina Lewis, a local anesthesiologist, said that COVID is not a pandemic, masks are not effective and that few children had died of COVID.

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 214 children aged 0-4 and 498 children aged 5-18 died of COVID from January 2020 to Nov. 13, 2021.

Lewis said that she belongs to groups such as the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, which has advocated for the use of ivermectin as treatment; and groups that include Peter McCullough, who was fired from Baylor University this year for spreading misinformation about COVID.

The board took no action to revise its current COVID health protocol policy during the meeting.

During the meeting, Superintendent Tom Moore said that cases in the district are trending downward and as of Nov. 22, there were 19 active case within the district.

He said the employee absence rate due to COVID has fluctuated but the infection rate among teachers has gone down.

Moore said that they’re looking for a COVID positivity rate below 10 percent to lower health protocols.

Last week’s positivity rate for the county was 11.4 percent, down from 13.1 percent the previous week, but those are still considered high, according to the Cascade County City-County Health Department.

Moore said that the district held two COVID vaccine clinics for children aged 5-11 in November and between them, about 750 children were vaccinated and about 135 also got their flu shots. There are two more clinics planned for December.