Montanais mobilize in Capitol for parental rights and against mask mandates



HELENA – At a rally on the steps of the Capitol in Montana on Friday, Senator Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, spoke about the importance of deep breathing. She recalls a childhood spent doing yoga alongside her mother, learning how breathing can control emotions, energy and nerves. But more than a therapeutic aid, she says, breathing is a right granted by God.

“Can there be anything more inalienable than the right to breathe freely?” Manzella asked the crowd, the majority of which were gathered in rows behind her.

Before she could answer herself, several voices spoke, answering “No”.

The rally, organized by a coalition of parental rights groups across the state, was intended to celebrate the date of entry into force of a new law prohibiting government agencies from interfering with “basic parents’ rights. To lead the education, health and education of their children. . The Senate Bill 400, sponsored by Manzella, largely adopted party lines this year and was signed by Governor Greg Gianforte on May 12. more specific.

“When I was forced to put on a mask, I immediately noticed that my breathing got shorter, I closed up,” said Manzella. “My whole psyche is insane by this mask, this facial layer. We must therefore protect the right of our children to breathe freely.

Face masks have become the source of heated division in Montana throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Debate continues to rage over their effectiveness as a public health intervention, despite efforts by the medical community to highlight the science supporting their use. The often bitter division has scrambled public schools, fueling tense school board meetings and lawsuit challenging school masking orders in Missoula and Bozeman. State Superintendent of Education Elsie Arntzen has repeatedly pointed out that masking is a problem for local decision-making, but has also appeared at rallies on parental rights, including one held on Friday , saying local school officials must take parents’ concerns into account.

Against the backdrop of signs reading “Masks hurt children” and “My child, my responsibility,” Arntzen told the crowd on Friday that local control demands that students, parents and school board officials all be respected – his call for respect for the latter eliciting a number of booing. She said her office is currently working on a solution that will include “withdrawal options and accommodations that meet the educational potential of each child.” Arntzen also cited recent results from the Montana Public School Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicating that 41% of students who responded “suffered from feelings of hopelessness and isolation.”

“We support the right of parents to make a choice on behalf of their child and their situation and medical situation, all of this. If the family believes that it is in the best interests of the child to wear a mask, then we want to support the freedom of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children. ”

Jenna Mckinney, Montana Family Rights Alliance

Asked by Montana Free Press after her speech to elaborate on her current office’s proposal, Arntzen said she plans to use the Bureau of Public Education’s rule-making process to improve communication between councils. local schools and parents. Arntzen declined to say directly whether the wishes of parents should trump the policies adopted by these councils, but said health care decisions are the business of families and their health care providers, adding that she firmly believes that “the virus itself is a health care decision.

“We have a challenge right now because there is a mix between health care decisions and education decisions,” she said. “I stand and draw a line in the sand: Healthcare decisions are made by healthcare experts. I was a 23 year old teacher. Teachers are not equipped to make decisions about health care. “

According to documents obtained by the MTFP from the Montana Department of Administration, two permit applications were submitted for the event, one by the Montana Family Rights Alliance and the other by the OPI for a “conference. press release with the voters involved “. Across the Capitol, a handful of people including Moffie Funk Representative D-Helena called a counter-demonstration. A flyer for the event encouraged attendees to “bring signs to stand with encouraging messages supporting our schools, science-based decision-making, and leaders who put the protection of our children and the health of our children first.” teachers ”.

Jenna McKinney, a resident of Bozeman and a member of the Montana Family Rights Alliance, was one of the main organizers of Friday’s rally. She said in an interview that parents across the state felt they were being ignored by local school officials in discussions about masking policies. Her organization tries to make these voices heard not because they are anti-mask or anti-vaccine, she continued, but because they are “pro-freedom”.

“We support the right of parents to make a choice on behalf of their child and their circumstances and their medical circumstances, all of this,” McKinney said. “If the family believes that it is in the best interests of the child to wear a mask, then we want to support the freedom of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children. “

One of the parents reunited on Friday, Charlotte Sanborn, a resident of Helena, said her daughter will be entering public school this fall. But after the district issued a mandatory mask order for all students under the age of 12, she decided to homeschool her daughter instead. Sanborn believes that such policies have put parents in Montana in an extremely difficult situation and deprived their children of the quality education to which they are entitled.

“I’m not here for myself,” Sanborn told the MTFP. “I’m here for all the women who can’t be here because they work. They’ve emailed their school boards, they’ve shown up to meetings, they’ve called their superintendents, they’ve protested, and they’re exhausted and exhausted.

Sanborn further argued that school boards suffer no financial consequences for implementing policies that encourage some parents to de-enroll their children, as Congress has approved billions in COVID-19 relief funds in part to address shortages. gaps related to registrations in state funding. Sanborn added that she approached Arntzen at the event with a request: that she lobby the legislature to commission a study into the effects of wearing masks on children.

“I want to see a long-term randomized controlled study that shows there are no negative psychological or physical impacts on the health of our children,” Sanborn said. “And this study does not exist.”

After the event, about two dozen rally attendees crossed the street from the Capitol Lawn to take a photo outside Helena’s office of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, a union representing public school teachers who did part of the groups denounced during several speech days. As much of the crowd moved away, several people continued to shout “freedom” as vehicles passed.

A woman, walking on the lawn with her preschool grandson, was wearing a mask. She demanded that the MTFP not use her name, but said she was looking for the counter-demonstration, which had since dispersed. A recent transplant in Helena from New England, she waved to her grandson, sitting on the grass, noting that he is too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The only tool she has to keep him safe is the mask, she said, looking towards the persistent crowd at the rally.

“For me, to stay there and cry for freedom is to put your personal choice ahead of someone else’s safety. It’s not security in my world. It is selfishness.

For the state superintendent of public education to attend such a gathering, she said, is “mind-boggling.”

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