MISSOULA — The Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Trustees voted 6-to-3 on Tuesday night to require students and staff to wear masks indoors for the first six weeks of the upcoming school year.
The hours of debate and public comment might be giving you flashbacks of last year’s back-to-school mask debate.
The difference this time around is that masks will only be required indoors, staff will be allowed to lower their masks if they’re six feet from their students, and students will be given periodic “mask breaks” throughout the day.
With more than 300 pages of public comment submitted prior to Tuesday’s meeting, along with hundreds of online attendees and a mask protest earlier in the day, it’s evident that each side of the argument feels passionate about their position.
For most, the very basis of the debate has become mask mandate versus mask recommendation.
“When you come out and tell me that I have to do something, I'm sorry, the first thing I'm going to say is ‘no,’ said trustee Michael Gehl. “If you ask for my help, then you get an entirely different answer, and here we are, we're mandating something here when we just got somewhat back to normal, and we have the influence of the legislature and the governor saying we need to be emphasizing the asking for help. It's time to start asking for help instead of mandating it.”
Speaking up in opposition to Gehl, trustee Grace Decker said, “I get it, people are tired of being told to do things that they don't want to do. To be frank, it sucks, but this is where we are, and I'm going to do my responsibility to take expert input, including from our own medical community here in Missoula, but more importantly from the national experts who have in fact been consistent about what they say is best for us to do for our kids in schools.”
The mask mandate will be re-evaluated by the board of trustees after the first six weeks of the semester.