Parents protest ‘No fans in the stands,’ rule

Political Potpourri
An Opinion By Brad Molnar
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Kristina and Claire Molnar attended last Friday’s protest in Billings. The protest was organized in response to the order from Yellowstone County’s Health Dept. disallowing fans and spectators at high school games and meets. Courtesy photo

Kristina and Claire Molnar attended last Friday’s protest in Billings. The protest was organized in response to the order from Yellowstone County’s Health Dept. disallowing fans and spectators at high school games and meets. Courtesy photo

Director of the Yellowstone County Board of Health, John Felton, held a meeting Aug. 4th to determine if parents could watch high school events this fall. The meeting determined parents could not watch their children participate in school events in Yellowstone County. That ruling united groups of parents across the county with similar groups across the state. Petitions with 30,000 parent signatures demanding the right to watch their children play were delivered to the Governor. Mr. Felton noted only 8,000 were from Yellowstone County.

A “Let Us Watch” rally at the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn drew hundreds though it started when many were not yet off work. Most parents stated they just want to watch their student athletes/thespians participate. If they had to social distance or wear masks they were willing though skeptical such would be effective. Some talked of going to the games and following the governors guidelines, wearing masks and social distancing in the stands, as a peaceful protest.

Their “for instance” was that Mr. Felton said the no spectators rule was to keep the athletes from contracting Covid-19. Parents all wanted to know how—since they drove the athletes to and from each practice, and lived with them daily—sitting in the stands increased the risk to their kids?

To be fair Mr. Felton is not a physician nor a politician. He was hired to manage a public health facility. Felton has a master’s degree in public health and a master’s degree in business management. Felton was elected by peers to head the Board of Health. Mr. Felton may not know an axiom of public policy development is that 80% of the people must agree with a law or the law will not be enforceable. A law must be seen as logical. As a parent at the rally said, “If someone does not want their kid to play with parents in the stands, then their kid should stay home.”

Mr. Felton says people should be patient as no one has managed a pandemic since 1917. Therefore he must find the best way by trial and error. Wrong. We have many countries, states, and counties chock full of effective responses. Many state’s schools are open with fans in the stands. Wyoming is one of them; add to them Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota, though all with variances and local school control.

South Korea has 67 million citizens living on top of each other. They peaked February 29th at 909 Covid-19 cases and three deaths. They had a resurgence Aug. 16 of 279 cases – 0 deaths. They are a mask society. No lock down. No mandates. No travel restrictions. Australia has had 25,448 cases with 583 deaths. They are not a mask society. Partial lock down is imposed, but Australians are allowed to work etc. Overseas travel restrictions are enforced.

Japan had 6,500 people attend a martial arts tournament. One attendee eventually tested positive for Covid-19 though it was not traced back to the tournament. Japan has the oldest population in the world. Japan’s population lives and travels in cramped quarters. They have not had a Fauci/Bullock/Felton style lock down. Yet they have a low infection rate and the second lowest death rate in the world. Many states without lockdowns or mask mandates have outcomes similar to, or better than, those that did a Montana-style lock down.

Recently, viewing the international numbers and state variances Doctor Faucci said, “We must be doing something wrong.” Four trillion dollars later and with the worst numbers in the world he may have a point. Mr. Felton must not have gotten the memo.

 

Into the fray

In my Freedom of Information Act request for the minutes of the August 4th meeting referenced by Mr. Felton, I allege the meeting was in violation of Montana’s Open Meeting Law which would make the ruling moot. Attorney Jenna Lervick of the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office says the meeting did not violate the meetings law. I have requested an explanation as to how that is possible when MCA 2-3-203 (2) makes clear that any meeting of governmental sub units convened to limit the rights of citizens must be made public. She says she will eventually respond.

Montana statute does not give primacy to Governor Bullock over the Superintendent of Public Instruction on matters of welfare of the schools (MCA 2-15-103 and 105). Rather, statute sides with local control reserved to local school boards in conjunction with OPI advice MCA 20-3-105 (7) (10). I have begun the process of asking for an Attorney General’s opinion since the governor cannot convey a power he does not have to Mr. Felton.

 

On the record

I asked Laurel Superintendent Linda Filpula if I could interview Activities Director Dominick Varga about the Aug. 4th meeting and how the Laurel vote was cast. She said that she would have Varga email me on the questions regarding the meeting, but the only choices given by Felton were no activities or activities without parental observation so naturally they chose events without fans. I asked about just stating that other school districts would not dictate to Laurel and then file the requisite plans with the board, just like the fair. No answer and no email at deadline.

I called the Huntley Project school office and Activities Director Tim Bastian many, many times and left a message I wanted to discuss the “No fans in the stands” meeting. No call returned before deadline.

Mike Erickson, Activities Director of the Lockwood School District, confirmed all county Activities Directors did indeed meet in person on Aug. 4th. He said they worked through all possible scenarios to go from the past (fall season 2019 ie pre Covid) to the present (fall season with Covid) and get back as close as possible to 2019 norms. I asked if he was aware that Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark were the only two Montana counties allowing sports but banning spectators. He was not.

 

Up against the wall

I called the Laurel Chief of Police stating I wanted to know if parents and grandparents showed up at a game wearing masks and social distancing, per the governor’s recommendations, if they would be arrested for trespass. The dispatcher conferred with the chief. She came back and said the policy would be to ask people to leave. If they did not and the Laurel School District asked that they be ticketed for trespass, then they would be ticketed.

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