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Billings Public Schools dropping mask requirement

N95 masks are used both as dust masks and as medical equipment.
Don MacKinnon
Getty Images
Billings Public Schools will no longer require masks after the end of the school day on Friday.

After Friday, Billings Public Schools will no longer require masks.

The district, citingfalling case counts and improved attendance, is dropping the face covering requirement that’s been in place since it was reimplemented in August.

“Even though the Yellowstone County metrics are still in red, several of them are in red,” Superintendent Greg Upham said Thursday, “the pieces of data we’ve been looking at – overall attendance rate, total number of staff that are out, and then the total number of cases that we have in SD2 – are down significantly.”

Upham says the district has reported 50 new cases so far this week – down from a “peak week” in mid-January when the district reported 443 cases among students and staff. At the time, 50 certified staff were out sick.

He says attendance has returned to roughly pre-COVID levels. On Wednesday the attendance rate was 92%, down slightly from the 93% the district was averaging before the pandemic.

“That brings us to pretty normal,” he said.

The district will still encourage masks in schools. N-95 masks will be available to students who request them. Upham says except for the mask mandate, all other health measures will stay in place, including social distancing and enhanced cleaning. The district will also continue to notify parents when a student has been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

“But," Upham said, "I have shared with our building administrators that I want to make sure that we get back to normal as much as we possibly can."

Nadya joined Yellowstone Public Radio as news director in October 2021. Before coming to YPR, she spent six years as digital news editor/reporter for the NPR affiliate in Wichita, Kansas, where her work earned several Kansas Association of Broadcasters awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow award for Excellence in Social Media. Originally from Texas, Nadya has lived and worked in Colorado, Illinois, Washington, D.C.; and North Dakota. She lives in Billings with her cat, Dragon, and dog, Trooper, and enjoys hiking, crocheting, and traveling as often as possible.