BILLINGS - Some school officials and county health departments are dropping quarantine orders altogether because of a new Montana law. However, the law is confusing because it differs from CDC guidance for people exposed to COVID-19.
House Bill 702 is a law that prohibits discrimination based on a person's vaccination status or possession of an immunity passport.
Doctor Anthony Johnstone at the University of Montana explains the language.
"It's a first of its kind human rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis on one's vaccination status," Dr. Johnstone said.
But it's causing some confusion on how to approach COVID-19 quarantine rules, specifically in schools.
It's pretty straight forward when it comes to jobs: Employers can't discriminate if employees, such as teachers, aren't vaccinated.
"So, employees of schools are still covered by house bill 702," Dr. Johnstone said.
But it's a little different for students.
"With respect to pupils, the law, in subsection two of its first section says that it doesn't apply to those vaccination requirements," Dr. Johnstone said.
Here's the conundrum some officials around the state are wrestling with: Some state and county officials say the law means unvaccinated people can’t be required to quarantine after a COVID exposure, unless vaccinated people are too.
Right now, the CDC says only people that don't have the vaccine should quarantine if they're exposed to the coronavirus.
Many schools were planning on just following the CDC guidance.
On the Billings Public School's website, it says if you're a close contact with someone who has COVID, you do not have to quarantine if you are fully vaccinated and don't have symptoms. If you're not vaccinated, you must self-quarantine.
According to Dr. Johnstone, the rules are different for schools.
"The exceptions to 702 for schools apply only to requiring vaccination as a condition of attendance and would not apply to differential treatment of students or employees based on their vaccination status," Dr. Johnstone said.
A political science professor at MSU Billings thinks there could be serious fallout in schools because of this law, especially if teachers are not vaccinated.
"If the teachers are all sick, who's going to teach the children? If the other staff are all sick, who's going to assist the teachers?" Professor Paul Pope said.
He's confident court battles are looming.
"They're probably going to have to make decisions to save lives, and politicians are going to try to keep schools going because they're trying to keep parents at work and they're trying to keep the economy rolling without any assistance from the government," Pope said.