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Free COVID-19 Tests

Billings Public Schools is providing free COVID-19 Rapid Antigen tests to all District employees, their immediate family members, and to all students enrolled in School District #2. Testing will be administered at St. John’s United across the street from Lincoln Center in the old Gainan’s building located at 502 N. 30th St. Appointments can be made at covidtest.stjohnsunited.org. Be prepared to show a BPS student or staff identification badge at your appointment.
covidtest.stjohnsunited.org

Questions You’ve Asked

Billings Public Schools wants to take the opportunity to provide a consistent response to a number of questions we have received regarding the precautions we are taking to protect students, staff, visitors, and their families from COVID-19. If you have any questions that are not answered by this FAQ, please complete the “Contact Us” form at the bottom of this page.

Why has the District made the decision to require universal masking in schools?

Countless hours have been spent conferring with medical professionals regarding mitigation strategies and understanding how COVID-19 is impacting our community. The decision to mask was based on the information from these meetings, carefully looking at our community data, and the circumstances that come with the Delta variant. Pertinent data that was examined is as follows:

  • The confirmed active cases in Yellowstone County are steadily rising.
  • On August 24, 2021 in Yellowstone County: 639 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 and 166 new cases
  • As reported from the Yellowstone County Schools Weekly Report generated by the Yellowstone County Unified Health Command, the weekly reports indicated the following numbers of new positive cases in Yellowstone County
  • In the August 24, 2021 daily report, about 20% (one in five) of those newly reported cases in Yellowstone County were people between the ages of 0 and 19—in other words, school-aged children;
  • Both St. Vincent’s and Billings Clinic have been hovering around maximum capacity due to the influx of patients with complications from COVID-19, meaning our local hospitals are at the point where any emergency medical assistance, such as a car accident or heart attack, may be diverted;
  • The Delta variant is demonstrated to be far more transmissible than earlier variants, meaning each person infected is much more likely than with earlier variants to infect those around them;
  • The Delta variant may cause more serious illness than previous strains, with more people being hospitalized with COVID-19 with this variant than with earlier variants;
  • Vaccinated individuals can pass along the virus to others, regardless of their vaccination status;
  • The Delta variant also seems to be having a greater impact on our children than earlier iterations of this disease, with pediatric intensive care units seeing increased numbers of patients than during the first wave of infection that swept the country last year;
  • Many survivors of the COVID-19 infection have been left dealing with long-term consequences of the viral infection, including children who have suffered tremendously as a result of their infection.

What should I do if I do not want my student to wear a mask at school?

If you do not want your child to wear a mask in school, you have the option of enrolling your student in the virtual learning platform the School District is offering. Parents wishing to opt their child into the virtual learning platform or learn more about that option, should contact a K-12 Executive Director: Randy Russell, at russellrj@billingsschools.org or Brenda Koch, at kochb@billingsschools.org.

Parents wishing to exercise this option must do so by Friday, September 3, 2021.

At this time, students who are not in attendance at school as a result of their or their parents’ choice to not abide by the masking requirement are not being reported as truant. However, beginning Tuesday, September 7, 2021, any student who has not opted into the virtual learning platform, but is still not attending school due to failure to abide by the masking requirement, will be reported as truant.

Do students who are vaccinated against the novel coronavirus still have to wear masks in school?

As a result of House Bill 702 (effective on July 1, 2021), the School District is prohibited by law from providing different treatment to students, staff, or visitors as a result of their vaccination status. One of the consequences of this is the School District must treat all persons as if they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk violating Montana’s Human Rights Act. This means that even if you are vaccinated against coronavirus you are required to wear a mask while on school district property.

What about Senate Bill 400?

Senate Bill 400, passed by the Legislature during the 2021 Legislative Session, states that a governmental entity may not interfere with the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their children unless the governmental entity demonstrates that the interference furthers a compelling governmental interest, is narrowly tailored, and is the least restrictive means available to further the compelling governmental interest.

SB 400 does not take effect until October 1, 2021. Regardless, while the School District does not believe requiring masking interferes with any fundamental rights of parents (or students or visitors), the School District believes that a universal masking requirement furthers a compelling government interest, that interest being mitigating the spread of a global pandemic that has killed more than 630,000 of our fellow Americans and nearly four and a half million people worldwide. The School District also believes that universal masking is narrowly tailored and is the least restrictive means to further the compelling governmental interest. The School District is utilizing masking as a way to avoid more broad-based or restrictive options to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as closing schools, or going to either a hybrid online or purely online model of education.

What about a medical exemption to the masking requirement?

The School District is aware of its obligations under state and federal law to provide reasonable accommodations and special education to those who qualify for them. If you or your child have a medical reason for being unable to comply with the masking the School District stands ready to have the conversation about what accommodations it can reasonably provide.

What about a religious exemption to the masking requirement?

At this time the School District is not aware of any religious teaching that prohibits the faithful from wearing a mask, so at this time, it is not recognizing any religious exemptions to this policy. The School District is prepared to reassess this position if presented with sufficient evidence to the contrary and will discuss potential accommodations with any affected individual at that time.

What about Article X of the Montana Constitution?

Article X of the Montana Constitution provides the guarantee that all children will be provided equality of educational opportunity. The School District is satisfying this requirement. All students enrolled in the School District are welcome to come to school and be educated in person so long as they abide by all District policies, including Policy 1905. Just like students are not denied their right to educational opportunity if they are sent home for a violation of a dress code, their constitutional rights are not violated by requiring them to wear a mask pursuant to a policy adopted to protect themselves and others from a life-threatening pathogen or sending them home for their refusal to do so.

Should a parent not wish to avail themselves of this educational opportunity, the School District, as explained previously in Section 2, is providing the opportunity for virtual learning.

What authority do you have to deny entrance to school property because someone is not masked?

School District Policy 1905 delegates to the Superintendent the authority to determine when masking is necessary. It has been determined that masking is necessary for all staff, students, and visitors.

School District Policy 4332 states that the School District prohibits any person on school property from willfully violating the School District’s policies, which would include Policy 1905. Policy 4332 authorizes the School District’s Administration to “take appropriate action as circumstances warrant for any infraction” of school district policies. This action could include barring a person from entering school property.

What about House Bill 501?

House Bill 501, passed by the Legislature during the 2021 Legislative Session and effective on passage and approval, amended Montana’s Criminal Trespass to Property statute, Mont. Code Ann. § 45-6-203. It dictated that it does not constitute criminal trespass to enter or remain in a public place paid for in whole or in part with taxpayer funds without a mask or other facial covering, even if such a mask or facial covering is generally required.

If necessary, the district can involve law enforcement in the enforcement of a request that someone leave school property after having been asked or if they are being combative or abusive. Mont. Code Ann § 45-6-201, provides that the privilege to enter property “may be revoked at any time by personal communication of notice by the landowner or other authorized person to the entering person.” So, a person may be able to avoid criminal liability for not wearing a mask in a setting where masks are required but if ordered to leave and the person remains, they could still be charged with trespass. The person would not face such a charge for simply not wearing a mask under HB 501.

The School District can also request law enforcement issue an individual, who refuses to leave after being asked, with a citation with the misdemeanor of Disturbance of School, Mont. Code Ann. § 20-1-206, prohibiting someone from willfully disturbing a school or any school meeting, or the misdemeanor Abuse of Teachers, Mont. Code Ann. § 20-4-303, which forbids the insult or abuse of a teacher anywhere on the school grounds or school premises.

2021/22 Return to School COVID-19 Information for Parents

What COVID-19 precautions will be in place at the beginning of the 2021/22 School Year?

Billings Public Schools will communicate and consult regularly with Yellowstone County Health Department, Yellowstone County Unified Health Command, and from our local medical experts as well as our local medical experts as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in our community. Our goal is for students to be able to attend school and for the doors of our schools to remain open throughout the course of the pandemic. We anticipate that adjustments will be necessary throughout the school year in order to make this goal a reality.

The following prevention measures will continue until further notice:

  • Students and staff are encouraged to wash hands frequently with soap and water and use hand sanitizer often when soap and water are not available.
  • Additional cleaning and disinfection of surfaces will continue.
  • Students will be spaced/socially-distanced to the greatest extent possible within the school learning environment.
  • Use of physical barriers, such as a plastic barrier, will be encouraged.
  • Cohorting will occur as feasible.
  • Limit large groupings of students as feasible, utilizing the outdoors as much as possible.
  • Food Services will continue to provide individual packaging of food as feasible.
  • Signage will continue to be displayed in buildings.
  • Students and staff experiencing symptoms of illness may not attend school and must adhere to the BPS 2021/2022 COVID-19 ILLNESS PROTOCOL GUIDE

Is my child required to wear a mask/face covering?

  • At this time, masking is required during the school day in all BPS facilities. Please provide a clean face mask/covering daily from home.
  • Federal mandates require face masks to be worn while riding in school buses and other forms of school transportation.
  • Billings Public Schools will continue to regularly communicate with our local health officials, and utilize the most recent Yellowstone County COVID-19 metrics to reassess the need for masking as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold within our community.
  • If your child is experiencing any symptoms of illness, please keep your child home and refer to the 2021/2022 COVID-19 ILLNESS PROTOCOL GUIDE regarding COVID-19 testing recommendations and requirements for return to school.

Will Billings Public Schools be performing contact tracing this year?

  • All contact tracing at this time will take place through Riverstone Health.
  • If the school is made aware of a confirmed case of COVID-19, and there is reason to believe that your child was exposed while at school or participating in an extracurricular activity, you will receive an “Exposure Notification Notice” via email and will be requested to monitor your child closely for symptoms. Please ensure your current email address is in your child’s PowerSchool information.

If my child is quarantined as a “close contact” by Riverstone Health, when can my child return to school?

  • Please follow the instructions provided to you by Riverstone Health regarding your child’s quarantine. Your child may not attend in-person instruction or participate in extracurricular activities while quarantining as a close contact.
  • In accordance with CDC and Riverstone Health directives, ideally, your child should quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure to the person who tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC offers two options to shorten quarantine if your child has no symptoms. Your child may end quarantine after 10 days without testing, or after 7 days (with return to school on day 8) if he/she tests negative from a PCR test taken on day 5 or later; or has a negative antigen test on day 7. You must continue to monitor your child for symptoms through day 14, following correct and strict mask usage, social distancing and all other hygiene measures. Quarantine cannot be ended earlier than day 7, even if your child has no symptoms.
  • We respectfully request that if your child is quarantined as a close contact, please contact the school principal.

Where can my child be tested?

  • We are providing free rapid antigen COVID-19 testing for BPS students, and BPS staff and their household members, at St. John’s United Laboratory, located at 502 N. 30th Street, Billings (former downtown Gainans). Please make an appointment at covidtest.stjohnsunited.org and be prepared to show a BPS student or staff identification badge at your appointment.
  • Testing is also available at Riverstone Health, the Billings Clinic, St. Vincent’s Health Care, and other medical care providers.

If my child has been vaccinated, will my child be required to quarantine if identified as a “close contact”?

Please follow the instructions provided to you by Riverstone Health. In accordance with Riverstone Health directives, your child is not required to quarantine if fully vaccinated AND your child does not develop COVID-19 symptoms following exposure. Your child should get tested 3-5 days after exposure and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days after exposure or until the test result is negative.

Will Billings Public Schools require COVID-19 immunizations?

  • Vaccination for COVID-19 is recommended for all age-eligible students and staff but not required. Please visit with your healthcare provider regarding any questions or concerns you may have regarding vaccination.
  • Vaccination info from Riverstone Health can be accessed at the following link: https://covid.riverstonehealth.org/ Click on the COVID-19 Vaccine Information link.
  • Vaccinated individuals will follow the guidance of Riverstone Health in regards to close-contact quarantine.

How will student absences be addressed during the 2021/22 School Year?

BPS will follow district absence policies. Excessive absences due to Covid concerns will be addressed on an individual basis. Documentation confirming any Covid-related concerns will be helpful in addressing these absence concerns.

Where can I find information regarding COVID-19 numbers in Yellowstone County?

Riverstone Health provides weekly Tuesday updates:

  • Go to the Riverstone Covid page: https://covid.riverstonehealth.org/
  • Scroll down until you see a blue box in the middle of the screen that says “Yellowstone County Weekly Data Dashboard”. Click on the box.
  • This will bring up a screen that will show several status indicators reflecting the current situation in our county.
  • Scroll down the page until you see “Weekly Surveillance Data.” Click on the most recent reports for more detailed information on Covid cases in our community.

BPS COVID-19 information can be found on the Billings Public Schools website at the COVID-19 Updates link or the School Nurse page at https://www.billingsschools.org/school-nurse-health-services

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