DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colorado — After spending week after week in school wearing masks in class, students in Douglas County can now take the masks off thanks to a new public health order issued Friday by the newly-formed Douglas County Board of Health.
"That's my fear, is that now my child will be in a classroom that's at least half unmasked," parent Kate Gould said.
Gould has two kids at Heritage Elementary School in Highlands Ranch. One of them has cystic fibrosis.
"So, we are a family that is directly impacted by this order," Gould said.
After the Tri-County Health Department issued a school mask mandate, Douglas County commissioners voted to break off from Tri-County Health and form its own health department. On Friday, the Douglas County Board of Health issued a public health order allowing parents to opt out of having their children wear masks in school.
"So, we just felt that we needed to listen to our parents and let parents make the decision for their children," Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas said.
Thomas also serves as vice president of the Board of Health. She said lifting the mask mandate is something Douglas County families have wanted for months.
"All they have to do, say this is impacting my child either physically or mentally, and I am asking you that you allow them to be in school without a mask on. It's really very simple," Thomas said. "We need to learn how to live with this virus and not let it control us."
Thomas said the public health order provides language that parents can send to school to opt out of wearing a mask.
Gould said it's too easy.
"Allowing parents to exempt their children for no medical reason at all, for no reason at all," Gould said.
The public health order allows any adult working in a school building to also opt out of wearing a mask.
The Douglas County School District is still recommending that masks are worn at all times. Students riding school busses still have to wear masks as ordered by the federal government.
Thomas said across Colorado there has been a low rate of hospitalization of children with COVID-19.
"This is not something that is going to kill classrooms full of children," Thomas said. "We need to put this in perspective that children need to be able to go to school and learn."
Gould said her concern isn't necessarily for the children getting COVID.
"These children come home to families like mine, families with grandparents, families with siblings who are immunocompromised, families with parents who are immunocompromised," Gould said.
Douglas County School District Public Information Officer Paula Hans said the district would not comment any further on the public health order. The district and Superintendent Corey Wise sent emails to parents about it over the weekend.
For now, Gould said, she will still send her kids to school with a mask and a message for the other parents.
"And just ask them, appeal to them as a mother, please send your child to school in a mask so that my child can stay," Gould said.
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