Last week, Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey issued a letter to Stevensville School District Superintendent Dr. Bob Moore and school board trustees concerning the recent decision to recommend but not require masks at the school.
“Your recent decision to not require masks as school returns to session this fall is a troubling one, though,” he wrote. “As officials across the state and locally reinforce the use of face coverings, you have taken a stance that does not speak to unity but rather undermines the many efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
“The Town of Stevensville has been actively implementing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Stevensville. Those programs include the sanitation of parks and public facilities and the recent launch of ‘Stevi Safe Certified’ which certifies businesses for implementing COVID-Safe best practices, including the requirement of face coverings.
“The close of the school year looked vastly different than many expected as students missed out on many experiences. The students, staff, and their parents demonstrated great adaptability in great stride and made their community proud. It is unfair that they be put in a position that may lead us to another school and/or community closure that could be prevented,” the Mayor outlined in his letter. “With the willingness to set an example and adapt for the safety of their loved ones and community demonstrated by your student body and their support systems, I have no doubt they will respond favorably to a face covering requirement adopted by your administration and the school board. A requirement is different than a recommendation and sets an important expectation from the onset.
“You are aware of the Governor’s directive stating that ‘Except as provided…, all businesses, government offices, or other persons responsible for indoor spaces open to the public shall require and take reasonable measures to ensure that all employees, contractors, volunteers, customers, or other members of the public wear a face covering that covers their mouth and nose at all times…’ In his directive, Governor Bullock goes on to state that ‘All officers and agencies of the state are directed to assist in the administration and enforcement of this Directive, consistent with § 10-3-305(2), MCA.’ These statements alone obligate you to follow the lead that the State of Montana, Ravalli County Public Health, and the Town of Stevensville have set in the interest of the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community.
“I implore you to immediately reconsider your direction on this matter. Not doing so shows little willingness of the school community to collaborate, communicate, and integrate with the community that surrounds it and its leadership who continue to make informed decisions. As an expression of good-faith and support, the Town of Stevensville is here as your partner to help however possible including the commitment of 5,000 masks from our resources.”
Mayor Dewey stated that he and Town Council members had heard feedback and concern from citizens regarding the school board’s decision. The Town Council will be discussing and considering the use of face coverings throughout the community at their regularly scheduled meeting on August 13th. The Mayor says that the school’s reopening measures may be part of that conversation.
Superintendent Moore responded in a press release:
“The Governor specifically excluded schools from his mask directive during his press conference (July 29, 2020) as confirmed by the Montana School Boards Association. This information was not represented in the letter from Brandon Dewey. The Stevensville School District will respond as necessary should this become a school mandate.
“The District will continue to move forward with our re-entry plan that allows students to continue their education both on and off site. We will continue to highly recommend the use of face masks for the school community as stated in the re-entry plan adopted by the Board of Trustees. The District will educate students on proper hygiene, execute cleaning plans, plan for social distancing as space allows and actively revise our plans as conditions change. The single point made by the mayor does not encapsulate the full breadth of the re-entry plan.
“The Stevensville School Board adopted this plan as a matter of local control and will continue to review the ever changing rules, policies, and mandates as they apply to school governance during this unprecedented time.”