Thursday, September 23, 2021
HomeEducationTri-County Health considers school mask mandate

Tri-County Health considers school mask mandate

Tri-County Health Department is considering a public health order requiring masks in schools, and one suburban school district has already changed its mask policy in response.
In a letter sent to area superintendents Friday, Tri-County Health Director John Douglas underscored his concerns about the more contagious delta variant and its impact on unvaccinated children.
“Conditions in schools are presently not safe for unvaccinated children, particularly those below 12 years of age who are not currently eligible for vaccination, without required universal masking,” he wrote.
Douglas also encouraged school leaders to adopt policies that maximize mask-wearing, regardless of whether his board adopts a mask mandate.
On Friday afternoon, Cherry Creek School District announced it would change its policy from recommending masks to requiring them for students in preschool through sixth grade and staff who work with those students.
“Safety is our highest priority, and the goal is to maintain in-person learning,” Superintendent Christopher Smith wrote. “This mask requirement will help us keep schools open and students in classrooms.”
Smith cited the strong warning from Douglas in changing the district’s policy, even though the health department has recommended universal masking in school settings for weeks. The school district also received a letter this week from dozens of parents who are also physicians asking for stronger mask policies.
The Tri-County Board of Health, which is made up of appointed representatives from the three counties, will meet Monday to decide whether to impose a mask mandate in school settings. The board could do nothing, require masks for younger children and staff who work with them, or require masks for everyone in school settings. The meeting is open to public comment.
In his letter, Douglas said transmission of the delta variant is “highly likely” in school settings without mask wearing, which in turn poses a risk to the physical health of children and to vulnerable friends and family members in the community. It also could disrupt in-person learning, which is important to the emotional and mental health of children, he said. The board cited these factors as the rationale for considering a mask mandate.
Tri-County Health Department oversees 15 school districts in Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties, and those suburban Denver area districts have adopted a range of mask policies.
Westminster Public Schools, for example, requires that everyone wear a mask inside, regardless of vaccination status, while Adams 12 Five Star Schools requires masks for all staff while making them optional for students. Aurora Public Schools requires masks for unvaccinated staff, while they’re optional for vaccinated staff and strongly recommended for unvaccinated students. The Adams 14 district is basing its mask rules on community transmission rates and changing requirements on a weekly basis.
Douglas County School District recommends masking but does not require it. Even phrasing its policy as a recommendation upset some parents in the conservative community, where county commissioners considered withdrawing from Tri-County Health Department over disagreements about COVID policy before agreeing to stick with the agency at least through next year.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommends that everyone wear a mask in school settings, in accordance with federal guidance. However, individual school districts and county health departments set mask policies.
On Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis said he had no plans at this time to impose a statewide mandate in schools, but that might change if too many schools are operating remotely. He also told parents to expect a disrupted school year with quarantines and abrupt switches to online learning.
There are currently seven Colorado children under the age of 10 in the hospital for COVID-19 and another 10 children ages 10 to 19, according to state officials.

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