Superintendent discusses event attendance policy, mask use
October 14, 2020
At last week’s Whitehall School Board of Trustees meeting, a group of local residents addressed concerns about limited attendance at sporting events, cancellation of non-conference games, and mask use in the schools. When addressing the issue, Whitehall Superintendent Hannah Nieskens was very clear their frustrations were not falling on deaf ears.
Nieskens discussed what she witnessed at a September 23 Jefferson County Health Board meeting where she wanted to discuss the cancellation of non-conference games and spectator policy. Nieskens said at the meeting she asked the board to publicly uphold or rescind the non-conference decision that was made by former health officer Joan VanDuynhoven. Nieskens said the meeting was adjourned without a vote and she was told by the board chair that she should not tell her what to do and they would be upholding the decision.
“What I’m telling you here is I feel really powerless. I have advocated and advocated to do what this (school) board wants. And this board wants the same things you want,” Nieskens told those in attendance at the October 6 meeting.
In August, the Whitehall School Board voted to not require masks for the start of the school year. Nieskens said one day later the governor released the mandate that required all schools in Montana to require use if there are four or more active COVID-19 cases in the county.
She said at a later meeting with the Montana School Board Association, a school board member asked what would happen if they do not adhere to the directive. Nieskens said a serious by-product of this would be insurance and if they chose to willfully disregard the directive the district and individual school board members could be sued if a student or staff member was to obtain COVID-19.
As far as sports, Nieskens said the district didn’t just invent the guidelines they are following, the MHSA guidelines, adding they are also the ones who dictated they must work with the health department.
Charissa Wagner told the board she was concerned about what is going on with attendance at sporting events and presented them with an event plan that increased attendance focusing on pod seating for families. Wagner discussed not being able to bring her entire family and the cost associated with childcare. She said games are a very important meeting place for the community when you take that away it causes stress.
Dane Smith also approached the board stating he was interested in getting more fans in the gates, much like he has seen traveling to away games. He encouraged the board to try and get as many people as possible and expressed concern when someone has a blended family and getting grandparents and others into the game.
Nieskens thanked everyone who was in attendance at the meeting and shared that one of her two children in the district was not attending on-site this year in part because she does not want to wear a mask.