By JADYN BELLANDER
Parents and teachers are now thinking about how a school day with a face mask might look for their students, and themselves, as the weeks wind down before the start of a new academic year with the continued threat of COVID-19.
While mandating face masks in indoor public spaces for those ages five and over, and strongly recommending them for ages 3-4, Gov. Steve Bullock’s directive currently does not require masks in schools. During a July 15 press conference, Bullock said that perhaps by time school starts in August for Jefferson County schools, children will become accustomed to wearing them.
A few Jefferson County schools — Boulder and Clancy elementary schools — are recommending masks, while Jefferson High School and Montana City have yet to publicly unveil their plans. Basin, which announced its plans before Bullock’s mask mandate, was not requiring their use.
One Boulder Elementary School Trustee, however, Eric Rykal, was worried that teachers would spend their day trying to keep masks on students. Rykal made his comment during a Trustees meeting when Boulder Elementary School’s reopening plans were being discussed.
Meanwhile, some teachers are also parents and will be facing the mask-wearing issue on multiple fronts.
Branna Schmidt is a third grade teacher at Montana City School and also has a four-year-old daughter.
“I have mixed feelings about it (wearing a mask). I want her to get the education and socialization that she wants and needs, but I also want her to be as safe as possible. She’s already been using a mask for other things this summer and I feel like if it helps keep her safer then I’m all for it. I know it will be difficult,” she said.
As a teacher, Schmidt said wearing a mask will make it difficult to see her students’ — and her own — facial expressions.
“We use those so often in our body language to help know how someone is feeling,” she said, adding that not being able to see her students’ smiles will be a hardship, but she also doesn’t want to be responsible for getting someone sick, either.
Hayley Maykuth, also mother of a four-year-old, said she got a taste of mask-wearing when the family flew to Las Vegas.
“She had the hardest time keeping her mask on,” said Maykuth.
“I am worried it will be more of a toy than a safety device,” she said.
Maykuth said that when the pandemic first began, her daughter’s preschool, Montana City Kids, teacher stamped their hands, and if the stamp was gone by the end of the day — due to regular hand washing — the child got a prize.
Maykuth thinks a similar reward system could also work for wearing masks.
Maykuth also teaches at Montana City School. She worries that the masks will end up being a distraction for students.
Regulating the masks will become another lesson for the day, she said.
“I think it will be a little comical and a little stressful, but just like any other day in kindergarten, you just have to do it and run with it,” said Maykuth.
Danielle Bullock is the mother of three young boys, ages 4, 5 and 8.
“I’m not sure Jordan, “Jordy,” 5, will keep it on his face and Kade, 8, who is older will be fine. I’m afraid they’ll just sit and play with it and not pay attention to what they are supposed to be learning,” she said.
Montana City third grade teacher Melanie Sharbono, with 20 years of experience under her belt, figures the face mask will probably become the new “fidget spinner,” a toy that was designed for those on the autism spectrum, but ended up being a classroom distraction for many. At the same time, Sharbono believes she can come up with a flexible plan to make it work.
“If the students are required to wear masks this fall, I will make it work. We’ll practice, we’ll get masks that are comfortable, we’ll make it a third-grade fad. I want to be in my classroom this fall … so, if this is what is required, then I will teach students that masks are a powerful life-saving device; nurses, doctors and even superheroes have worn masks throughout centuries,” she said.