HELENA — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced on Tuesday a rule encouraging schools to give parents final say on whether children should wear masks in schools, after several large school districts in the state implemented mask requirements for all students.
Gianforte, a Republican, made the announcement after the U.S. Department of Education opened on Monday civil rights investigations into five Republican-led states that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.
Gianforte said in a statement that masking in schools, which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, is “based on inconclusive research.” He also said masking could have adverse impacts on children’s “health, wellbeing and development.”
The CDC issued its guidance in light of the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
The rule says schools should consider “parental concerns” when adopting mask mandates and should provide parents the ability opt out of health-related mandates for a wide array of reasons including physical and mental health, developmental needs, religious beliefs and moral convictions.
Adam Meier, director of the state department of public health, said in a statement that the department “would encourage schools to take into account all of these factors and implement any mitigation strategies in the least restrictive means as possible to maximize learning outcomes for Montana children.”
Districts in Montana that have already implemented mask requirements include Missoula and Billings. In Missoula, a group of parents who oppose the mask requirement has already filed a lawsuit against schools that require masking. They cite the same research mentioned by Gianforte, including a CDC study from May 2021 that found that masking in schools did not have a statistically significant impact on COVID-19 spread.
But a growing body of research shows that masking is an effective tool to keep COVID-19 at bay in schools, and CDC officials have said that most places experiencing surges in the virus are places that are not implementing current CDC guidance.
This story has been corrected to show that the new Montana rule encourages schools to give parents the final say on school masking requirements, but does not require schools to do that.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.