On Thursday morning, Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson appeared on KGVO’s Talk Back show. He was noticeably optimistic about the start of the school year. He said enrollment is up from last year and that the best place to educate kids is in person.

“That is what our teachers are doing right now and what they love to do,” Watson said. “The transition was difficult, but not impossible. It feels much more like a regular school year this year in terms of the number of school days, the hours during the school day, the activities, and the events that we have going on. It is a nice way to start the year.”

There has been a lot of talk recently about the mask mandate in Missoula schools. Watson explained where that mandate came from.

“Those guidelines were passed by the school board on August 10th,” Watson said. “Those were recommended guidelines from the administration. The guidelines basically say that while kids are in doors, they have to wear face coverings. That includes staff and any visitors that might come into the building. When they go outside, they can take their face coverings off. We will reevaluate that after the first six weeks of school. The next time that will be in front of our school board will be the first meeting of October.”

Back in August, Watson said they received national guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC. Since that time, Watson said a lot of state level guidance has come out as well.

“The State Academy of Pediatrics, the Nurses Association, and several hospitals in the state have all backed up that guidance for face coverings in doors for kids,” Watson said. “I don’t believe that guidance is going to change. We will be looking at the amount of community spread within our community. One thing that you can look at is the incident rate, which is the number of positive cases per 100,000. On August 10th, it was 24. As of yesterday, I think it was at 75 or 76. That is going in the wrong direction. I know that is one of the things the board will be looking at.”

Watson said they are encouraging that their eligible students get vaccinated, but he said that is a decision a parent should make with their medical provider.

“We are obviously encouraging vaccines, if it is right for the family and the child,” Watson said. “Right now, we have been watching that as well. We don’t track it for our kids only. However, if you look across the county, the 12 to 14-year-olds are about 41% vaccinated. What is really encouraging news is that 15 to 19-year-olds are at 61% vaccinated. They have already surpassed the next age group, which is the 20 to 29-year-olds.”

Watson acknowledged that all of us are a little exhausted with the pandemic, but he said teachers and students are really excited to be back in school.

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