DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- Douglas County Schools will join other school districts already requiring masks for students on Aug. 23. The move Tuesday night followed a vote by the Tri-County Health Department Board of 6-2 (with one abstention) in favor of requiring masks for children between the ages of 2 and 11 as well as all individuals working with or interacting with children aged 2 to 11 years, in all indoor school and child care located in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties.
The decision brought cheers from mask supporters.
"In medicine, there's often a complaint that we're too reactive that we're patching up holes, that we're prescribing pills, rather than promoting health," explained parent Dr. Eiko Browning. "This is a prime example of where we can promote health. We can prevent disability and death. It may not be the child themselves, it might be their family members, it might be the community members. And allowing COVID to run like wildfire through the community is not good public health."
The Douglas County School District within hours enacted the recommendation.
"We realize this adjustment to our COVID protocols may spark a range of emotions in our community from relief to anxiety to anger," said District Superintendent Corey Wise in a statement. "However, as previously communicated, DCSD's COVID protocols will align with local and state health orders. The safety of each of our students and staff is a top priority, and the goal is to maintain in-person learning."
"I am relieved for my daughter because in her elementary school, in her neighborhood school, there's only about three other kids she said in her classroom that are wearing masks," said Browning.
But there's been strong resistance. A majority of people who commented on the proposal verbally and in messages to the Board of Health were opposed to the idea.
"My sense is that it's really hard to ask small children to be in school with a mask on all day," said parent Courtney Pallota, who opposes the idea.
One of her children will be under the new requirements even though her 3rd grader attends a charter school. The district said neighborhood, private, magnet and charter schools within Tri-County Health's jurisdiction fall under the public health order.
"We were making progress in being able to go to school without that and allowing parents to have a choice in terms of mask or no mask and making those changes right as they go into the school year it feels disappointing."
Pallota believes masks are too limiting, "It's just the mental impact of being in school with a mask on all day and not being able to socialize with your classmates and also elementary aged kids for whom being able to see a teacher's face and them seeing their face is really important."
Tri-County Board members debated the vote after 950 people signed up to speak to them in an open forum Monday. More wrote messages. Anger flared in many of the messages.
Two Tri-County board members from Douglas County voted against the mandate.
One of them, Dr. Linda Fielding said, "Currently our governor has not said that we have a mandate for this and so I am advocating watching this, very strongly because things can shift in a day, but we can put masks on in a day."
In support, Julie Mullica of Adams County said, "We can't return to another year of shuffling from online to in-person learning."
She talked about her own role as a parent last school year, "It was not a mask that hurt my child, it was them not being in school. Let's get back to learning. Let's not make this more complicated than it needs to be. We need our kids in the classroom."
Douglas County put in place mask requirements through the 6th grade noting that 94% of 6th graders are under 12 years old.
Littleton Public Schools, which also had no requirement, said it too would follow the call from Tri-County Health.
"More information will be emailed to staff and parents just as soon as we review the 'official' order issued by TCHD," said the District in a statement. Health Department staff was directed in the vote to generate and send out the order.
Tri-County Health policy allows its three counties to opt out. Douglas County commissioners have already set meetings in which it is likely they will vote to opt out. But that's not binding on the school district, which has its own leadership.
"If a county exercises that right, it does not preclude any school, school district or childcare facility from following this public health order," notes Tri-County Health.
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