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I am writing to urge the Bozeman School Board of Trustees to reconsider the “optional” mask policy at the start of the 2021-2022 school year in the elementary and middle schools. Simply put, masks should not be optional while a substantial portion of the student population remains ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Based on eligibility for the vaccine (12 years old and above), we know that all elementary students will not be vaccinated. Thus, it is illogical to say that masks will be optional in a school where all students are known to be unvaccinated and CDC guidance is that unvaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors. In middle schools, at least half of the incoming 6th grade class will be under 12 years old at the start of the school year and ineligible for a vaccine. In Gallatin County, the average vaccination rate in 12-17 year-olds is only 29% (BDC, June 11). Combined, this means the percentage of the middle school student population that is currently unvaccinated is likely around 73%. Perhaps that will drop toward 50% over the next couple months as (hopefully) more students age 12-17 years old get vaccinated.

I urge the Board of Trustees to recognize that the most appropriate course of action would be to require masks at the beginning of the school year in the elementary and middle schools, and revisit the requirement after all students become eligible and have had the opportunity to get fully vaccinated. If we want children back in school, safely, masks are an essential strategy. Masking was likely responsible for the Bozeman schools’ ability to operate safely in-person last year, as evidenced by a recent CDC study showing that schools with mask requirements last year experienced 37% fewer COVID-19 infections than those without mask requirements.

Katie Ireland


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