By Henry Netherland
Pathfinder Staff 

Mask requirement remains, class trip updates given

Potomac School Board


April 22, 2021

POTOMAC - Members of the Potomac School Board voted four to one to reject a motion requesting that mask wearing be voluntary on school grounds during a monthly Board meeting Monday, April 12. The board also heard updates on the seventh and eighth grade trips and approved all but one intent to hire.

For the past few school board meetings, staff members and parents have publicly advocated for making masks optional on school grounds. At their last meeting in March the Board was informed that if they chose not to follow Missoula City-County Health Department’s (MCCHD) mask mandate, then they would have to take MCCHD to court.

Trustee Gary Long voted in favor of making masks optional.

“I think it’s time for us to tell the county we’re not going to wear a mask anymore,” he said.

Some of those who voted against the motion said that while they personally believe in making masks optional, they did not want to risk being let go from their job.

“My vote on this … unfortunately, has to be informed by my profession. If I vote in favor of allowing our school, the school that I’m on the school board of, to defy a county health department mandate, I almost certainly open myself up to lose my job,” Trustee Courtney Hathaway said. “And my family can’t afford for me to lose my job.”

Hathaway continued saying that the school also runs the risk of having the virus spread if transmissions should take place during extracurriculars.

“We are seeing an uptick in COVID cases among young athletes at sporting events where there are multiple cohorts being mixed,” she said. “And so I think that we need to keep that in mind as we’re opening ourselves up to larger events like track and Missoula Children’s Theatre.”

One parent said they should go through with making masks optional anyways.

“[The Health Department is] not going to come after us,” she said. “There’s no money in it for them. And if they do, so be it.”

Board Chair Cliff Vann said he could provide a document that states in legal terms that MCCHD has the authority and the willingness to shut down government organizations that are not wearing masks.

Another parent said she would like the Department to be held accountable for their lack of response.

“The Health Department has been very disrespectful for several people that have not returned phone calls in regards to our concerns and it’s not been a short amount of time,” she said. “If I did that as a business, and did not return phone calls, and did not address the concerns of my business or my patients, I wouldn’t be in business.”

Vice Chair Kelsy Ployhar agreed.

“If we aren’t getting responses, if we aren’t getting data and information that we’re [requesting], to me that’s an issue,” she said.

Vann said he would like to have a clear figure dictating what number of cases can result in the mask mandate becoming a recommendation.

“I would like to hear that there is a metric that they’re shooting for that we could all look at and say that makes sense, or that doesn’t,” Vann said.

While they turned down the motion, every vocal attendee agreed that representatives for the school get in direct contact with MCCHD to see if the school has any options to make their mask policy optional. The Board said they would try to request a private meeting with the Health Department to make masks optional for the school, but if they are unable to then they would have representatives make public comments at one of the Department’s upcoming meetings.

Eighth grade students presented updates on their fundraising efforts towards their Canyonlands National Park class trip. The students have met their budget goals but are now looking for another parent or community volunteer to go as a chaperone on their trip.

Potomac Principal John Rouse said the chaperone cannot be a classified employee or someone who is paid by the hour because of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “strict” requirements. This chaperone would require a background check. They hope to approve someone by the May Board meeting to allow for two weeks to get another volunteer and conduct a background check.

The board unanimously approved the seventh grade class’ first choice for their 2022 trip to WorldStrides in Florida. WorldStrides offers activities related to marine life such as swimming with manatees and dissecting squids which meet the requirement that the trip be 85% educational. This is the same trip the 2020 class was looking towards.

The Board also gave them permission to make a deposit for the trip. The class will need to raise around $15,000 to support the students and two chaperones.

The board unanimously approved selling, recycling, donating or disposing of a Hobart industrial kitchen oven as well as a Wilray 12,000 gallon diesel fuel tank.

Rouse announced the resignation of Kindergarten teacher Lauren Wilson. Prekindergarten teacher Brianna Peterson was selected as her replacement.

The agenda item to approve an intent to hire and negotiation committee for Clerk Heather Marcella was postponed to next month because of uncertainty as to whether or not a negotiation had taken place.

In other business they unanimously approved:

• Certified Employees Intent to Hire

• School Calendar for 2021-2022

• 2021-2022 Bus Routes

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 10.


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