JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — Jeffco Public Schools students who are between 3 and 11 years old will be required to wear face coverings indoors this coming school year, the district announced Friday afternoon.
Students who are 12 and older will be encouraged to wear masks, but it is not required, Jeffco Schools said. This is in line with the guidance from Jefferson County Public Health, which recommended that all people wear face masks in indoor situations regardless of their vaccination status in wake of a change of policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Kids adjusted to mask wearing unbelievably well. They are compliant whether we’re talking about school-aged children, grade-school aged children or high-school aged children," Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, 9NEWS Parenting Expert said. "They just sort of went along with it ‘OK, what do I have to do? I’d rather be in a mask, be with friends, be in-person than be at home.'”
A crowd outside Jefferson County Public Health on Wednesday, disagrees. Protestors yelled “Let parents choose!" And "freedom not force."
Esther Bland is 11 and will have to wear a mask inside her school before her birthday in September.
"And if you’re not worried, I think you can choose whether or not you want to wear a mask," said Bland, who came to the protest with her mom.
Protest organizer, Lindsay Datko, said if parents have medically vulnerable kids, they have other choices too.
“Jeffco public schools has put a lot of money into a remote option this year if that’s what your kid needs to do," said Datko. "But the majority of children are safe and able to go to school and choose, and remain safe in school, and that’s what needs to happen at this point with other options for those who need it."
The district said it will revisit this policy if Jefferson County’s COVID-19 case count reduces to 35 per 100,000 people or if the vaccine becomes available to children under the age of 12. Jeffco Schools said the county’s current case count is 77 per 100,000, a 300% increase in the past 11 days.
The CDC has previously said the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 is driving surges among the unvaccinated in numerous states and that some data indicate that people who have gotten a vaccine could still be susceptible to spreading the virus.
The school district said its decision regarding masks was driven by the health department’s assertion that it will “strictly enforce quarantine guidelines for exposure to COVID, and they have the legal authority to do so.”
“They have indicated they will require quarantines for routine classroom exposure for anyone unvaccinated and not wearing a mask,” Jeffco Schools wrote in a letter to parents. “This has major implications for our students age 11 and under, who are not eligible for the vaccination at this time.
“Quarantines greatly interrupt learning for healthy children. In order to avoid quarantines of numerous students in any one classroom or school who may have been exposed to a positive case, we will require masks for students ages 3 to 11 (generally PK through 6th grade) in all schools while indoors. Once a student becomes fully vaccinated (currently eligible at age 12 or older), masks are recommended, but not required.”
The district said families will receive contact from the health department if their student is “unvaccinated, unmasked and exposed to COVID.”
All Jeffco Public Schools staff will be required to notify the district about their vaccination status by Aug. 16. Unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks indoors, and face coverings will be recommended for those who have received a vaccine.
Visitors will be required to wear face masks inside Jeffco Public Schools buildings.
“Our primary goal in making this decision is to maintain an uninterrupted in-person learning experience for our students,” Jeffco Public Schools’ letter to parents reads. “We simply cannot take the risk of extensive quarantines and fluctuating attendance which will keep so many healthy students out of school.”
Ziegler said, "Parents really need to have a sense of partnership with school districts and with teachers. We are not out of the woods. We have a long road ahead of us in many different ways."
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