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School mask requirement lifted

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | May 4, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby Public Schools officials lifted the district’s mask requirement May 3.

Since school board members voted in favor of the policy change on April 12, administrators have kept a careful eye on local coronavirus case counts. Superintendent Ron Goodman reminded parents of the shift in an April 26 announcement on the Libby Elementary School Facebook page. During an interview three days later, Goodman said the district remained on track to lift the requirement, pointing to a low number of cases in Libby.

While staff and students may now attend school without donning face coverings, there are some caveats to the new policy.

School administrators still require masks in classrooms with teachers or students who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Goodman reserves the ability to reinstate the requirement —— which the district has had in place since the start of the academic year — if the coronavirus begins spreading in school buildings or a high number of cases of unknown origin crop up in Libby.

Throughout the pandemic, Goodman has pointed to wearing masks as a means to safeguard students and staff while keeping classrooms open. While districts across the country have had to switch to remote learning curriculums, Libby schools only temporarily suspended in-person education twice in the fall due to concerns that the virus might be spreading within school buildings.

Goodman said he would only renew the face covering requirement if he felt the spread of the virus was putting at risk the health of students and staff or the continuation of classroom learning.

“The big thing is: Is it going to jeopardize keeping kids in school?” he said April 29.

Keeping the option to switch back to masks could also protect the district from liability lawsuits. Goodman said that if the district were unable to reinstate protective measures amid a serious outbreak, plaintiffs could argue school administrators had acted negligently.

School board members settled on the May 3 date after discussions with public health officials and attorney Kris Goss of the Montana School Board Association.

Lincoln County Health Department officials recommended the district wait until April 29 to lift the requirement since anyone who wished to be vaccinated should have received their doses by then. Goss suggested pushing the date back to the following Monday to save the district from changing policy in the middle of a school week.

During the April 12 meeting, board members briefly considered lifting the requirement the following day. Ruth VanWorth Rogers, middle high school principal, and Andrew Stiger, elementary school principal, told board members they were unsure if they could prepare their teachers in time.

Since local and state health officials rescinded their mask mandates earlier this year, board members have faced pressure to lift their restrictions. During a meeting in March, a group of students presented the board with a petition to end face covering requirements signed by 161 fellow students, parents and community members.

Troy Public Schools lifted their mask requirements on April 5.