Kalispell School Board Meeting Canceled Due to Maskless Protesters

Board will hold remote meeting Thursday night; district managing first positive case at Glacier High School, implementation of face-covering mandate

By Andy Viano
The entrance to the Kalispell Public Schools office in downtown Kalispell on Sept. 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A group of more than a dozen people who refused to put on face coverings in accordance with a statewide directive showed up at the Sept. 8 Kalispell Public Schools board meeting, forcing board members to adjourn the meeting and move to reconvene remotely later this week.

The disruption marks the third time in the last month that a public meeting has been abruptly canceled by protesters opposed to a directive issued by Gov. Steve Bullock earlier this summer. In August, two city council meetings in Kalispell were moved online after some attendees refused to don a face covering, and all future council meetings are scheduled to be held remotely.

Public health, medical and government officials locally and nationwide point to broad scientific evidence that wearing a face covering reduces the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Kalispell School Board will now meet remotely on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. Those wishing to attend the virtual meeting are asked to pre-register at this link.

Tuesday’s meeting was to include a clarification of the district’s face covering policy, which the board unanimously voted to implement on Aug. 11, one day before the governor made his proclamation mandating that masks be worn in schools. According to the meeting agenda, some parents, staff and administrators want the board to more narrowly define what constitutes a face covering. Superintendent Micah Hill’s proposed clarification would define face coverings as “disposable masks, cloth face masks, face masks with a solid, transparent insert, or multilayered buffs/gaiters as long as they are securely covering one’s nose and mouth.”

Nothing else on the board agenda pertained directly to face coverings or the district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, Hill said Kalispell schools have so far seen “100% compliance” to the mask mandate when students are in school buildings, although some education is continuing around how and when to wear face coverings correctly.

Students, teachers and staff have been back in school for more than a week and, as administrators anticipated, a handful of positive coronavirus cases have been detected in the Flathead Valley, including one at Glacier High School. Notification of that positive test was sent out to parents and staff over the Labor Day weekend, after the Flathead City-County Health Department first contacted the families of 16 other people who have now been placed into a 14-day quarantine. Hill said the infected person at Glacier picked up the virus outside of a school setting and that, so far, there is no indication there has been any spread within the school population.

Despite the detection of a positive case, Hill said Kalispell schools are not looking at any change in operations in the immediate future. Hill is part of a 13-person advisory council made up of school leaders and health officials from throughout the county that designed metrics for how to respond to positive cases, and he said that any building closures would be tied to either a shortage of available staff or evidence of the virus spreading within a school.

The health department, meanwhile, has confirmed four positive cases among school children in Flathead County and placed 88 close contacts of those students — anyone who spent at least 15 cumulative minutes within 6 feet of the infected person — into the 14-day quarantine. Those in quarantine are also referred for a coronavirus test but not required to take one.

Flathead City-County Health Department spokeswoman Malia Freeman added that the individual schools and districts are given the opportunity to notify parents and staff of any positive cases within their buildings and that the health department would not be identifying the districts or schools where coronavirus is discovered.

andy@flatheadbeacon.com

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