Students and Masks

Masked Bozeman High students walk home after school on May 18.

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Bozeman School District lifted its mask mandate Monday after more than a year since it enacted a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board unanimously voted to eliminate the state of emergency declaration during Monday evening’s meeting. The declaration, which was adopted on May 18, 2020, came with a series of health and safety protocols, including the mask mandate.

The district said cleaning and disinfecting protocols would still be followed according to the normal policy.

Chad Berg, director of special education and student health with the district, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release updated guidelines for schools in the near future.

The school district will also continue to receive anonymized data throughout the summer on COVID-19 cases from the Gallatin City-County Health Department, Berg said.

The district’s COVID-19 task force, scheduled to meet on July 8, plans to consider health guidelines and local input from the health department when considering what the fall start to the school year will look like for health restrictions, said interim co-superintendent Casey Bertram.

The task force will also receive comparison data on the rates of cases and the type of instructional model being shared by other AA districts in the state, Bertram said.

Preliminary data showed 3%-8% of students had COVID-19 in AA districts, with Bozeman Schools reporting 6% of its students had an identified positive case. For staff who had COVID-19, the numbers were a bit higher, from 8% to 19% across AA districts in the state, with Bozeman reporting 8% of its staff had COVID-19.

The decision to lift the mandate before the July 8 meeting was made to allow the adults who have had access to the vaccine and are working in the district during the summer to do so without a mask, Bertram said in response to a question from Trustee Tanya Reinhardt.

“For the custodians who are in the buildings working hard, we wanted to provide them an opportunity to take their masks off,” he said.

The district will still encourage people who aren’t fully vaccinated and those who are at high risk to still wear a mask indoors, Bertram said. Individuals not fully vaccinated are also encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings and during activities with close contact with other people.

Students younger than 12 years old who do not have access to a vaccine and would be attending summer school or programs in schools will be encouraged to wear a mask in a controlled environment with small groups, as recommended by the CDC, Bertram said.

The district is also below the CDC’s designation of a high risk of transmission. The last day of school, June 10, was the first day since the pandemic began where there wasn’t a student or staff member in quarantine, Bertram said.

If the COVID-19 task force recommends or public health data shows the need to start the school year with a mask mandate, Bertram said it’s likely the COVID-19 rates would also be severe enough to necessitate an emergency declaration for the district.

The school board trustees expressed joy and relief to be at a point where the declaration of emergency and mask mandate could be lifted.

“I see this vote as a vote of hope,” said Trustee Douglas Fischer.

This story has been updated to correct that students younger than 12 will be encouraged to wear masks. Masks are not required for any students or staff.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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