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DougCo Schools will require masks, despite commissioners opting out

On Tuesday, the Tri-County Health Department Board passed a mask mandate for students ages 2-11 in public, private schools in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

COLORADO, USA — As the debate over whether to require masks in schools rages on, some county health departments are taking the decision out of the hands of individual districts and instead issuing public health orders requiring the use of masks in school settings. 

These are the counties in Colorado that have issued or are considering mask mandates for schools:

City and County of Denver

On Tuesday, the City and County of Denver issued a public health order that requires face coverings in schools and childcare facilities for all people ages two and older.

The requirement will go into effect on Wednesday.

Under the order, masks that cover the nose and mouth must be worn when indoors at all schools and school-based extracurricular activities. It applies to students, teachers, staff, volunteers and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. 

There are a few exceptions:

  • People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise living with a disability where fully observing facial expressions is essential to communication. 
  • Individuals who must temporarily remove a face covering for identification purposes. 
  • Individuals who are actively engaged in a public safety role, such as law enforcement, firefighters or emergency medical personnel.

Jefferson County

The Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) Department issued a public health order Monday requiring masks while inside at schools and childcare settings for anyone over the age of two starting on Tuesday.

Jefferson County's order requires all students and staff in grades pre-k through 12 to wear masks when indoors at any school, school-based extracurricular activity or childcare setting. 

Unvaccinated faculty, staff, students and adults participating in school-based extracurricular activities will also be required to partake in routine testing throughout the school year, according to the health order.  

Tri-County (Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas counties)

On Tuesday, the Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) voted to pass a mask mandate for all students ages 2-11 in public and private school in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

The mandate will go into effect on Aug. 23, once board members formalize the public health order. The mandate was passed in a 6-2 vote with one board member abstaining.

"Today, I'm basing my decision based on my experience as a mother, as a public health professional and most importantly, as a community member," said Julie Mullica, Master of Public Health with Adams County. "I can't find the heart to disregard the CDC recommendations and so therefore, I support a universal masking mandate for our schools. Masking is an important tool we just don't have the luxury to avoid using."

Counties do have the option to opt out of the order.

Tuesday night, the Douglas County School District sent a letter home to parents stating that it will follow the mask mandate as required by law.

"Given that Tri-County Health Department has the legal authority to issue public health orders, DCSD is obligated to follow their mask-wearing requirement. Neighborhood, private, magnet, and charter schools within Tri-County Health Department’s jurisdiction all fall under this public health order," Corey Wise, Douglas County Superintendent, wrote in the letter.

Previously, Douglas County was the largest district in the state without a mask requirement.

"I really believe that we need to give the power back to the parents to make those decisions for their kids because they know what's best," Cherry Creek Schools parent Schumè Navarro said on Sunday.

Navarro along with more than a dozen other parents gathered at Centennial Center Park on Sunday. The parents planned to speak at Monday's meeting, but were frustrated that the health department is even considering a policy change. 

"It needs to be an individual choice, and I respect parents decisions when they want to mask their children because they're doing what's best for their child, and I want them to understand I'm doing what's best for my child," Cherry Creek parent Kaydee Van Deren told 9NEWS. 

Not all Cherry Creek parents agree.

Fiona Gau wants to see a stronger mandate. Cherry Creek recently announced the district would require masks for kids in Pre-k through 6th grade.

"I'm proud of our leadership for taking the steps they've taken so far, but I want them to do more," Gau said.

"I think there’s been not enough time for there to be enough vaccinations among our student population at large, so until we have much lower case rates in our community and much higher vaccination rates, we should all be masking." 

Adams 12 Five Star Schools and the Aurora Public School district have mask mandates as well but even if Tri-County does issue a new rule, it doesn't mean all will abide.

Republican Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas told 9NEWS DougCo will likely fight it. 

"Douglas County did sign an agreement with Tri-County Health last November that said we agree with Douglas County to stay with Tri-County Health until January of 2023, with the understanding that the commissioners can opt out of any public health order that we feel is not of the best interest of our citizens," Thomas said. 

"We’re trusting the Tri-County is going to honor their agreement with us to allow Douglas County to opt-out of any public health order they make that our citizens don’t feel is beneficial to them." 

The public forum was held virtually and began at 4 p.m. Monday. Tuesday's meeting where a vote was taken began at 4:30 p.m.

Douglas County

Douglas County Commissioners voted to opt out of Tri-County's order to require children 11 and under to wear masks in schools, but despite this decision, students will still be wearing masks at Douglas County Schools come Monday.

Douglas County's attorney Kelly Dunnaway explained to commissioners the language of the Tri-County health order gives schools options. 

Dunnaway said regardless of the commissioners' decision, Douglas County schools and any other schools within the county do have the option to adopt a mask order, despite the county opting out.

"What this is saying, if you go forward with this resolution and opt out of the order from Tri-County, it simply means there’s no order to enforce within Douglas County," Dunnaway said. "But the second part of the sentence goes ahead to explain that the school district, the childcare, the private schools, just like any other business, they're still open to adopt this order as their own if they choose to do so. So essentially next Monday everyone will be in the same position as they were last Monday." 

And on Friday, the Douglas County School District said that despite the commissioners' vote, masks will still be required starting Monday for all students in preschool through sixth grade while indoors. The requirement also applies to all staff who work with that age group.

While masks are not mandatory for students in grades 7-12 the district said they're strongly recommended, regardless of vaccination status.

"We continue to navigate the complexities of our current circumstances, and we empathize with the varying emotions regarding COVID mitigation protocols in our schools," the district said in a statement Friday.  "However, please know that our goal is to keep our students and staff safe and in the classroom for in-person learning."

In addition to opting out, the Douglas County Commissioners agreed to draft a resolution to encourage the school board to opt out of the mask policy, the district acknowledged that resolution but said it is a "separate entity operating within its own policies."

Boulder County

Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) issued a public health order for a mask mandate that went into effect on Aug. 10. The order requires mask wearing for all people age 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status. 

  • While indoors in any preschool through grade 12 school building anywhere in Boulder County.
  • While indoors at any childcare center or childcare facility, regardless of licensing status.
  • While indoors and participating in a youth camp, youth extracurricular activity, youth gym activities, and youth sport. This requirement applies to all participants, attendees, spectators, staff, volunteer and coaches.

BCPH said it's top priority and planning efforts are focused on ensuring kids remain in-person school and said, "By implementing universal masking, schools will be able to reduce the number of routine classroom exposure quarantines."

Broomfield County

The Broomfield Department of Public Health also issued a public health order requiring children ages 2-11 to wear masks indoors while in school and child care settings.

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