Billings Public Schools considering lifting mask mandate at the beginning of second semester

BILLINGS, Mont. - Billings Public Schools is considering lifting the mask mandate at the beginning of second semester if COVID cases continue to trend downward.

"Looking at the drop in COVID cases and the impacts to the school district, I had shared with our trustees Monday night, we should consider lifting the masking mandate beginning second semester if things continue to trend in the manner that they are trending," Billings Schools Superintendent Greg Upham said.

Upham said they are closely monitoring the Yellowstone County Schools Weekly Report. He said they are watching things like hospital capacity, number of new COVID cases per week and number of COVID cases in school-age children. They are also watching the number of COVID cases in the school district.

"We saw some significant declines the last couple of weeks with SD2, our numbers," Upham said. "I watch those very closely. We went from three weeks ago, 113 cases, to this week, we had 65."

Upham said one key piece of this is that vaccinations are now available for kids ages five and up.

"We can't mask forever," he said. "The Delta surge appears to be on the decline. Our numbers are showing it. We have a natural break in our school year, which is the semester time. Our people are feeling mask fatigue. Our administrators, I've spoken with every one of our administrators. They would welcome the opportunity as long as all of the metrics work in our favor. I think our families would too.

Upham said if people are concerned about the possibility of masks becoming optional in the schools and want to look into virtual learning, they should contact their school principal.

"As long as the numbers trend in the direction that they're trending and we don't have any specific outbreaks or anything like that, then I think it's safe to say, my recommendation would be to lift the mandate," Upham said. "Obviously, masking would be optional. We would be masking friendly."

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