- Montana House Bill 702, signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte in May, prohibits public and private employees from excluding, limiting, segregating, refusing to serve, or discriminating against individuals based on their COVID-19 vaccination status, meaning schools would have to quarantine everyone regardless of vaccination status in case of COVID-19 contact or not enforce quarantines for anyone.
- The law runs counter to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends schools quarantine only unvaccinated individuals in case of COVID-19 exposure.
- HB 702 has led to variations in how local communities implement quarantines, with health departments in some counties loosening quarantine restrictions and not requiring vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals to quarantine. Missoula County, however, is among locations defying the law, with the local board of health voting unanimously to follow CDC guidelines rather than the state law despite potential blowback.
"If we were to say that everybody should be quarantined — whether they're vaccinated or not —I'm concerned about the potential disruption to schools," said Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick in a board meeting prior to the vote. "There would be real unintended consequences there in terms of loss and harm."
"We could run into a legitimate staffing concern because we won't be able to have those people come back to work, they'd have to quarantine," said Rob Watson, superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools, during the meeting. Watson added about 80% of his adult staff has been vaccinated.
Montana appears to be the only state deeming quarantines based on vaccination status a discrimination issue. Earlier this year, states including Florida, Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah outlawed school mask mandates.
Those orders have since been challenged by local courts, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, which issued investigations into the states also citing discrimination — this time, against students with disabilities who may be at a higher risk of contracting the virus and could be pushed to learn from home if schools don't issue mask mandates.
“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who launched the investigations shortly after President Joe Biden's request, in a press release.