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Big Sky School District lifts mask mandate

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On Feb. 15, the BSSD School Board of Trustees voted unanimously to lift its mandatory masking policy. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – After nearly six months of mandatory masking, the Big Sky School District will retire its emergency mask policy.  

BSSD School Board of Trustees referenced youth vaccination availability, mask mandates being lifted locally and nationally, and public comment as reasons for lifting the policy. The board’s unanimous decision, effective immediately, made face coverings optional on campus. BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman said during the meeting that per federal law, masks will still be required on district transportation. 

The board originally put Emergency Policy 1905 in place at an Aug. 24, 2021, emergency meeting ahead of the 2021-22 school year. In addition to requiring masks, Policy 1905 also included cleaning and disinfecting procedures as well as distancing requirements. 

Ahead of the meeting, the board sent an email to district faculty and parents requesting comment on the upcoming vote on Policy 1905. Nearly 40 responses were received with an overwhelming majority in support of an optional masking policy, trustee Kara Edgar said in the meeting. She thanked commenters for taking the time to voice their thoughts and said that the support is appreciated.

“By and large people were very thankful and gracious about the work that the trustees and the faculty and staff have had to go through for the last 23 months,” Shipman said at the meeting. “Most people opened their email correspondence with ‘Thank you.’”

Edgar led the effort to collect comments and present them to the board.

“Overall, over the last 23 months, our response from the board has been really based on evaluating the most current information available,” Edgar said in a Feb. 16 interview, “and as we’ve all seen, throughout the pandemic, that information has changed.” Vaccination eligibility, updated CDC guidelines and falling hospitalization rates are all factors that Edgar referenced as informing the board’s risk evaluation.

Board Chair Loren Bough noted at the meeting that while only students aged 12 and older were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at the time the board put the masking policy in place, all children are now eligible to be vaccinated, a new development that he said adds an element of choice. 

“Our real focus was on the health and safety of the students and faculty,” he said.

Edgar said the board will continue to monitor the situation and respond to any changes that would potentially threaten the district’s ability to continue with in-person learning. 

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