MISSOULA, Mont. — A professional medical association is pushing back on a recent state memo advising schools lift mask policies.
Earlier this week, Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen wrote a memo to school superintendents encouraging them to lift mask mandates in schools. The memo focused on plans for next year but said they encourage schools to lift policies this year, too.
On Friday morning, the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics sent Gov. Greg Gianforte its own letter, copying Arntzen, asking him to encourage schools to keep universal masking policies, which is the CDC’s current guidance.
The letter addresses the emotional toll on kids when they’re not in school and says, “We empathize with the desire to return to normalcy, however since most school-aged children will not have the opportunity to be vaccinated, we unequivocally recommend that Montana schools continue to require masks at this time. We believe that increasing vaccination rates among our children will decrease COVID-19 and allow them to remain in school, while removing the mask mandates in school will have the opposite effect. If our goal is to improve the mental and physical health of our children, let us encourage vaccination while maintaining mask use in schools.”
“Things change so quickly with COVID, to be able to predict what's going to happen in six months, three months, I mean I feel like that's really difficult,” pediatric hospitalist Laurie Carter said. “We have to look at where we are right now, and we can see from where we are right now, children 15 years and under are not going to be able to be fully vaccinated before the end of the school year.”
We reached out to the governor’s office for comment. A spokesperson said, “Access to school is essential to the developmental, social, mental and educational needs of school-age children. The governor believes having schools open and kids safely back in the classroom must be a priority. He’ll continue working in the best interest of our kids, parents and educators.”
NBC Montana replied, asking if masks prevent access to schools. As of news time, we have not received a response.
One pediatrician told NBC Montana masks are helping kids stay in school because they cut down on transmission, lowering the numbers of kids having to quarantine.
You can read the memo from Arntzen and the letter from the MTAAP below.