HS alters fan numbers, eyes mask changes

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A few more spectators will be allowed at Beaverhead County High School events, the school board decided Monday.

A decision whether to relax mask requirements, however, will have to wait a couple of weeks.

The board unanimously approved upping the maximum number of people present during BW Lodge activities to 270 people, and the maximum for activities at the football stadium to 260 people. BCHS administrators recommended the additional numbers, with an eye toward Homecoming events which take place the week of Sept. 21.

Superintendent and Principal Gary Haverfield said administrators considered providing spectator tickets to uniformed players on the teams, but did not account for additional participants such as managers. Homecoming added other wrinkles, with wanting to include the king and queen candidates and their family members.

“It was an oversight,” he said.

Assistant Principal and Athletic Director John English noted he obtained a more accurate count of how many people were in each location with social distancing. His prior estimate was guesswork due to the remodeling of BW Lodge.

Previously, the board capped attendance at 250 for Vigilante Stadium and 260 for BW Lodge. The new boardapproved increase was run by Beaverhead County Public Health, who told Haverfield the change was reasonable.

Mask changes considered

Opinions on whether to continue to require masks despite having fewer than four active cases in the county were all over the map, with parents and some board members supporting relaxed restrictions, while administrators pointed to teacher support for retaining them.

The four active cases mask requirement was set by Gov. Steve Bullock for K-12 schools, with some exceptions such as for physical exertion or in classes where social distancing can be maintained.

Haverfield said he surveyed staff, and the majority were in favor of requiring masks regardless of active cases, though several noted they could see loosening the requirement if coronavirus case counts continue to stay low locally. Teacher Caleb Igo said it was a 2-1 split in favor of keeping masks when the question was surveyed among the Beaverhead Federation of Teachers. Both said many teachers wanted consistency, and many wanted to keep teachers with health issues safe.

“A number of staff members were a little concerned about Labor Day. They felt like they wanted to see how it plays out for a couple of weeks, and see what happens in the county. If it stayed consistently low, I think three or four of those members might think we could take a look at it and revise it,” Haverfield said. “Not that the staff has all the say in it, but I have to say it folks, if they aren’t here our kids don’t get educated – end of story.

“For me personally, with 20 staff members feeling the way they do, I recommend you not change it at this time, but that’s just my thought.”

Board members Pierce Rouse and Koy Holland came down on the side of relaxing restrictions.

“Don’t you think this is going to be around for quite a while? There’s got to be a time when you say well, enough is enough,” Rouse said. “I’m all for relaxing (the requirement), but I also understand with college getting going, Labor Day and all that, I’m willing to give it a couple of weeks to see what happens.”

“There’s never going to be a chance of not getting it,” Holland added. “I fully respect the teachers and their wishes and if they want to do that – if they want masks in their class, I’m all for having masks so long as they produce a doctor’s slip to you administrators showing that they have a good reason for a mask.”

Board President Gary Love disagreed with requiring doctor’s notes for teachers.

“We have 30 some teachers – the frontline people fighting this thing – they’re dealing with 60-100 kids every day, and if they feel they want to require masks in their classroom I’m all for it. If we don’t we’re going to have teachers say to heck with you we’re done, we’re going to walk out, we’re not going to be here,” he said. “To ask them to be like a six-year-old kid with a doctor’s slip to have to wear a mask is ridiculous I think.”

Haverfield said several teachers are in the high-risk category for COVID-19 complications due to their age, and he thought even if they disagreed with masks, they intend to wear them to ensure students and teachers can physically be in school.

“It seems they just want to make sure that we do whatever they can to make sure they’re safe and the kids are safe, because if we have one case, it can create some real havoc,” he said. “If one football player gets it, all of them will be out 14 days – that’s the end of the story, game over. They have to self-quarantine for 14 days. That would be devastating to any program we have.

“For me, I don’t like them. But it’s just my opinion...my outlook is for all our kids and the staff, anything we can do to make a safer environment so the kids can come to school and kids can participate – and we can teach kids in the seats – and I wear a mask every day, I’m all for it. I think a lot of the staff feels the same way,” Haverfield added.

Holland said a doctor’s note may not be necessary, but he supported teachers being able to require masks in their classrooms, and coming to school with masks if they chose.

Haverfield said he would need to check out the legality of whether a teacher can require students in class to wear masks, if masks are optional for other staff and students.

Parents Alicia Silverwood, Vanessa Graham and Nicole Hull raised health concerns for students wearing masks all day, especially when taking part in strenuous physical activity. They also wondered how students with difficulties hearing or understanding teachers and other students will be able to learn if everyone wears masks.

The parents also noted confusion among BCHS staff, specifically when masks need not be warn. Some said their children were told to wear masks when running or weightlifting.

Haverfield said masks were allowed to be removed during strenuous exercise like that, but replaced when doing things like spotting a weightlifter or stretching. He said he would work to clarify that point with staff.

Board member Cory Lamey suggested postponing any changes to get more input on what criteria were needed to determine when mask use was optional, and how that would be implemented.

The board tentatively scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Sept. 23 to review and potentially change the mask requirement for the high school.