Douglas County schools keep COVID mask rule

District sticks with mandate despite health-board change

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The Douglas County School District is still requiring that masks be worn inside its schools, its superintendent confirms, even after a public health order on masks dissolved in Douglas County.

“The Douglas County School District will continue to require the wearing of facial coverings inside all school buildings (including neighborhood, magnet, and charter schools) for all students, staff, and visitors regardless of vaccination status,” Superintendent Corey Wise said in a letter to district families dated Oct. 1.

The Douglas County Board of Health met for the first time on Sept. 30 as the county continues to distance itself from the Tri-County Health Department over objections to COVID-safety rules.

Board of Health members confirmed with county legal staff that a previous health order from Tri-County’s Board of Health requiring people 2 and older to wear masks inside schools and childcare settings was no longer in effect in the county. The order dissolved in Douglas County once the new Board of Health met and assumed jurisdiction.

The Douglas County Board of Health members took the added step of approving a motion stating it will not implement the former mask mandate moving forward, which they said would clearly communicate to Douglas County residents where board members stand on masking children.

Despite Douglas County formally leaving the Tri-County Health Department, it will continue contracting with Tri-County for health services through at least 2022.

The school district had followed Tri-County Health’s masking mandate since it took effect Sept. 1.

In his Oct. 1 letter to parents, Wise noted that despite the lack of a public-health order requiring masks in Douglas County schools, Tri-County Health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and various other health agencies “continue to recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to PreK-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

Wise also noted that district board policy “requires management of communicable diseases in accordance with CDPHE and (Tri-County Health) guidelines.” He said the district’s schools are “still subject to the Tri-County Health Department’s quarantining rules,” and that without a mask-wearing requirement, Tri-County would require the distroct to implement stricter quarantine requirements in case of COVID outbreaks.

Wise has not granted Colorado Community Media’s requests for an interview on the matter.

A Sept. 29 letter sent by Tri-County Health Executive Director John Douglas to the Douglas County School District acknowledged that schools and childcare centers “will no longer be required” to comply with the Tri-County Health county-wide health orders.

However, the health agency can still order a school to close, issue isolation and quarantine orders, and other measures to lessen spread in outbreak and high-risk settings, he said.

“TCHD staff, as the provider of disease control and investigation services, will continue to provide guidance on controlling the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and will be available to answer questions and provide technical assistance to school leaders in Douglas County related to COVID-19 and public health,” the letter said.

The letter strongly encouraged schools to continue requiring universal masking for everyone inside school buildings.

The school district’s mask requirements have been the subject of much debate at recent meetings.

At the Sept. 28 Douglas County School Board meeting, about 20 people voiced opposition to masking mandates in schools while roughly 10 supported masking or mandates.

Owen Wicks, a 16-year-old sophomore at STEM School Highlands Ranch, said he has a sensory processing disorder that makes the feeling of touch difficult. He spends several minutes each morning adjusting his socks or getting a new pair altogether until they feel comfortable, he told directors.

“I don’t like when my family hugs me,” he said.

Masks “make my skin crawl every moment I wear them.” That becomes a distraction as he tries to learn, he said. Owen and his mother, Amity Wicks, said they could not find a doctor to write a medical exemption and his school required him to continue masking without one.

Owen, who called masks ineffective and mandates illegal, hopes to see mask mandates go away.

Other parents decried efforts to enforce masking in schools, alleging teachers required pushups from students who did not comply or took photos of unmasked students, and called it intimidation.

District parent Kelly Pointer called masking a minor inconvenience and thanked the school board for requiring masks in schools.

Stephanie Ford, a mother of two district students, said she was appalled by misinformation shared about virology during public comment and that data shows masking works in containing COVID-19.

“It is not your personal right to be a public health threat,” she said.

Reporter Elliott Wenzler contributed to this story.

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