With fall and a new post-COVID school year on the way, KGVO spoke to Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen on a variety of topics, including masks, COVID vaccinations and millions of dollars in ARP funding.

With COVID cases rising in Missoula, the MCPS School Board is considering a requirement for students to wear masks in school. Artnzen commented.

“There is no (statewide) mandate for masks,” said Arntzen. “There is no mandate for vaccines coming from our office, and nor do I believe from the governor's office. We have been saying this all along. It is up to health care providers and personal responsibility when it deals with children.”

Arntzen said families should have a great deal to say about such a decision.

“Let's put families in control of this decision,” she said. “And if families have a concern, get in that boardroom. Talk to those school leaders. Visit with your classroom teacher. You as parents in Montana, we know our children better than anyone. And that is where we are with masking or vaccinations.”

Arntzen said each school district must make its own decision.

“Missoula County Public Schools is making the determination with county health and by listening to parents and families,” she said. “I do believe there is a medical exemption that goes along with this, and that is a discussion with a parent, their child and their medical provider. But, it's sad to see this occur with the numbers and the science that we have at this point and the fear about  the different variants of the virus. We want to make sure that in school we're leading education. The school is not a healthcare provider, and I wouldn't want to have masking or vaccinations be any passport to learning.”

In addition, Arntzen said Secretary of Education Cardona complemented Montana on being one of the first states to submit its American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief proposal for $127 million in funding.

“The federal government did stand by its promise,” she said. “We delivered a state plan to them on how these precious tax dollars were going to be spent in innovating our classrooms making sure that our schools are safe for students, teachers, teacher leaders, and of course parents when they drop their children off at school and our school doors open this fall.”

The Missoula County School Board will release its guidance at their meeting via ZOOM on Monday, August 10.

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