banner_winter.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Education

Billings Public Schools keeps mask requirement in place

A pile of surgical masks.
Marco Verch
/
Flickr
A pile of surgical masks.

After announcing last month it was planning to make masks optional, Billings Public Schools now says it will keep its mask requirement in place when the new semester starts next week.

District Superintendent Greg Upham said in a letter to families this week that although there’s no one metric to determine a masking policy, the decision was based on the "swift pace" with which the omicron variant is spreading throughout the community.

"It was with great anticipation that we were poised to welcome optional masking," he wrote, "but the trajectory of the current cases requires us to remain vigilant as we work through this wave."

The district reported 161 new cases among students and staff the first week of January, the highest weekly case count since the start of the semester.

Several Montana school districts, including Great Falls, Havre and Kalispell, moved some classes online this week because too many staff members are out sick with COVID-19.

Upham says in his letter the Billings district is doing everything it can to “avoid being placed in a remote environment.”

I ask that we all refocus our efforts in optimizing our ability to continue providing critical in-person instruction and extracurricular activities," he wrote. "You can help us by practicing socially distancing, washing hands frequently, and masking when appropriate."

Ahead of the district's winter break, Upham had told families BPS was "striving" to loosen its mask mandate, which also faced a legal challenge from critics seeking to have it struck down.