HELENA — Helena Public Schools will require masking for all students and staff beginning Monday, Jan. 24 in an effort to prevent the school district from having to move to remote learning.
“While we have more tools to prevent sickness than ever before, including vaccines and antiviral medications, the sheer volume of infection is disrupting our schools and community,” wrote Superintendent Rex Weltz in a letter to parents on Friday. “We are dangerously close to moving to remote due to staff shortages. Absence rates for both students and staff are higher than they have ever been during the last two years. Despite these challenges keeping schools open five days a week has always been and continues to be our highest priority.”
Masks will be required inside during school instructional hours until the latest wave of COVID cases begins to decline. They are also highly recommended for activities that take place outside of the regular instructional day.
“Helena Public Schools Nursing staff, Lewis & Clark Public Health, St. Peter's Health and CDC recommend masking and believe masking will help us keep schools open and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Again, keeping our schools open is our primary objective,” wrote Weltz.
Weltz says it’s a “snowball” effect right now with cases and infections.
“When our staff or their own children are infected, they can't teach and support students. When students are infected, they miss out on learning opportunities. And when students, staff, or their families get sick, they rely on nurses, doctors, and hospitals who are already struggling to care for the surge of patients when they too are experiencing staffing shortages.”
The district is already Covid testing students and staff. Evening testing has been suspended due a shortage of testing supplies across the nation.
Masks are available and increased filtering of the air in all Helena Public Schools classrooms is also in place according to the school district.
Weltz stated the mask requirement is a temporary measure to help them get through the worst of the Omicron wave. The requirement will be lifted as soon as they believe it is safe to do so.
Helena Public Schools is also asking that children wear a high-quality mask if possible. They recommend N95/KN95, followed by surgical masks, and then multi-layer cloth masks. Helena Public schools advise against single-layer cloth masks, which are not considered adequate to prevent Omicron per CDC and Lewis and Clark Public Health recommendations.
KN95 masks, N95 masks, three-layer cloth masks and surgical masks are available at every school, if needed. If the child has special health needs, parents are asked to contact their school nurse.
“I remain deeply grateful to our families, staff, and community for helping us keep COVID at bay so we can keep our schools focused on kids,” added Weltz.
Read the full letter from the superintendent below.