It’s almost as if Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen was channeling the fictional character ‘Cool Hand Luke’ who coined the phrase ‘what we have here is failure to communicate’.

Arntzen spoke frankly to KGVO News on Thursday about Governor Bullock’s masking mandate announcement and that the very agency responsible for the state’s public schools received no advance communication about the order.

“There has been no communication with the governor, especially over this instance,” said Arntzen. “Nine minutes before he stepped up to his podium we received his directive in an email, with no other words surrounding it. We were not part of the collaborative process. We were not part of any conversation leading up to it.”

Arntzen said parents in over 400 public schools throughout the state were caught short by the announcement that contained no guidance other than the order itself.

The traditional model of education now is at risk because of the governor's ill formed, inconsistent and incorrect direction in this masking mandate.

“Let's not have mismanagement from the governor's office that is inconsistent, that is incorrect in their messaging, and also ill timed because plans were already being discussed,” she said. “Our families now do not know what should happen related to our decisions of our schools reopening. Now they have to go back to their boardrooms and discuss more because of his ill timed mandate as of yesterday.”

Arntzen said children as young as five years old will have a difficult time dealing with wearing a mask throughout the school day, and even at recess.

“When it comes to a student that may not understand the importance of this Governor's directive, and they exchange masks or they wear them oddly or they don't put them on at the proper moment, should they be scolded?” she asked. “Would that turn them away then from their prerogative which is to learn?”

Arntzen said the Governor’s masking order has disrupted plans made by local school districts to open their schools safely.

“When the governor closed schools on March 15, everybody in the Montana school community has been looking toward the next two weeks when school doors reopening plans had already been set. Everyone was working toward that goal in health and safety, but now this has thrown everything into more of an uncertain world. The traditional model of education now is at risk because of the governor's ill formed, inconsistent and incorrect direction in this masking mandate.”

In a press release, Arntzen wrote:

‘I am truly disappointed in the Governor’s inability to engage in timely and collaborative discussions on one of the most important issues facing our state this fall. A winning combination for our Montana students is to show respect for and collaboration with school leaders and local communities in a timely manner.’

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