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Confusion over Douglas County's new public health order on kids and masks

On Sunday, county commissioners said the district can recommend that students wear masks, but it must accept the mask opt-out option in the public health order.

DENVER — After Douglas County's new Board of Health approved its first public health order, a message from the school district's superintendent confused families over the weekend. 

Parents were asking if their child needed to wear a mask or not at school on Monday, which prompted the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners to release a statement Sunday afternoon.

"The Douglas County Board of Health public health order is clear," a joint statement from the commissioners said. "What is unclear and is creating confusion among Douglas County families is the school district's recent statement in response to the order .... recommending that students mask."

Commissioners said it is within the school district's discretion to recommend masks, but the district must accept the exemptions allowed in the public health order. 

"The district must now accommodate the mask opt-out opportunity in the public health order, allowing students, with the proper paperwork from the adult caregiver, to opt out of the mask requirement and allow adults within a school environment to self select and do the same," the commissioners said on Sunday.

After Douglas County commissioners released their statement, the school district provided its own clarification. According to the district, procedures for masking in schools remain in place, with the exception of a new avenue for families to exempt their children from mask-wearing, if desired.

"DCSD will continue to require all students, staff, and visitors to wear facial coverings inside our school buildings regardless of vaccination status. There are exceptions, however, for those with either a medical exemption or an exemption pursuant to the new Public Health Order (a signed and dated declaration from a parent/guardian of a child under the age of 18 years)," said the statement from the district. 

Parents and guardians may submit their written exemption requests directly to their school.

The public health order passed by Douglas County's Board of Health on Friday allows parents to sign a document requesting their child be exempted from wearing a mask at school due to "the negative impact on the individual's physical and/or mental health."

> Video: New Douglas County health board might let students take off masks

According to Children's Hospital Colorado, there are no valid reports or scientific studies linking masks to mental health problems in children or any other group. 

“We’re encouraging all families and children to follow mask guidelines so kids can return to safe in-person learning and activities as soon as possible," Dr. Jenna Glover, a child and adolescent psychologist, said. "Masking will help many kids and teens get back to their friends, teachers, coaches and other support systems.”

Children's Hospital Colorado said the mental health challenges that many children are experiencing are due to multiple factors, including disruptions to routine, family life and schooling, coupled with isolation, stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. 

“In general, kids are feeling more stressed and distressed than ever before,” Glover said. “The major activities in their lives have been constantly changing during the pandemic, and youth have been faced with prolonged periods of trying to cope with the unknown. Masks are not harmful to children’s mental health. They need to be back in school and have connections with other kids and adults to improve their mental health. Right now, wearing masks is the best way to ensure that will happen.”

In a memo released in early September, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) said studies about play and emotional understanding show that masks are unlikely to impair social interactions in a child's daily life. 

CDPHE, the CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal indoor masking for everyone in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.  

RELATED: Douglas County health board approves public health order giving power to parents to exempt their kids from wearing masks

RELATED: Tri-County Health will continue to serve DougCo as it works to create own health department

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