DENVER — Denver's new superintendent is explaining the decision to require all students, visitors and staff members to wear masks that was announced earlier this week.
Beginning Monday, Denver Public Schools will require face coverings in all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. Masks will not be required outdoors.
Staff members do not have to wear masks if they are alone in their office and have confirmed with their manager that they are vaccinated.
The decision was reportedly made in consultation with Denver Department of Public Health and Environment in response to a recent increase in COVID-19 metrics.
Dr. Alex Marrero, the new DPS Superintendent, said he knows not everyone is happy to mask up again.
"I accept the feedback, and even the criticism," Marrero said. "What I can say is, our 'victory' is because our students are going to be in-person and not socially distanced because of masking.. I can't stress enough, that we're starting here and hopefully we'll become less restrictive in terms of mask usage as opposed to some [other districts] who will be forced to backpedal because of what's happening in their communities."
Charter schools will share their own mask guidance with charter students and families.
>Video below: DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero explains what went into the district's decision-making regarding its health and mask procedures for the upcoming school year
Mayor Michael Hancock (D-Denver) announced Monday that all city employees, or private-sector employees in high-risk settings, are now required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30. That list includes DPS teachers.
Marrero said DPS does not currently monitor vaccinations so it's not clear how many teachers in the district have been vaccinated so far. He expects that to change now that the city is requiring teacher vaccinations.
Marrero said the decision to issue a new DPS mask mandate was made easier by the city of Denver's new vaccination mandate.
"If the city is taking this strong of approach, it makes sense to us to, again, follow guidance, but also follow suit," Marrero said.
Marrero said he has not just consulted with district and city health leaders, but also talked with DPS families about mask requirements.
"We listed, we read the emails that came in, [and] I was out and about during [a recent] listening tour. And also our internal folks," he said. "It was a toss up, 50% to 50% who wanted to mask, and those who wanted to not mask for a lot of other reasons."
Other districts are not going as far as DPS with COVID-19 restrictions. Marrero said he would rather start more restrictive and dial back later, even if other districts take a different approach.
"Because [the DPS mask mandate] is the most restrictive, it allows us flexibility, and to be in concert with the city," he said.
"And, I have to say it -- We're not going to be like the other districts who are going to backpedal. We're not going to flip flop. We don’t want any uncertainty in our community. So we're starting here and we are hopeful we’ll continue to be less restrictive [later]. But as long as we can be in person, elbow to elbow, doing what we do best, that’s the victory."
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