Keeping the mask mandate in Clear Creek schools is doing more harm than good, school board members generally decided Feb. 10 as they provided feedback that will go to the Clear Creek County commissioners.

The school board doesn’t have the authority to remove the mask mandate currently in place in Clear Creek schools. That is up to the county commissioners, who act as the Board of Heath, and they will take up the issue at their Feb. 15 meeting. Superintendent Karen Quanbeck will provide a summary of the school board’s discussion at that meeting.

Jefferson County removed that county’s mask mandate beginning on Feb. 12.

“When you start to think about the impact on the social/emotional health of students and teachers, I hear so much weariness,” board member Erica Haag said at the school board’s Feb. 10 study session. “Teachers are weary of asking kids to put their masks up. I can tell you I feel the mask mandate has outlived its usefulness.”

Haag talked about the emotional toll that masks have had on students, continuing to deteriorate their emotional and mental health. She said the detriment of masks outweighed the lower risk of contracting the omicron variant.

She noted that other school districts such as Platte Canyon have not had mask mandates, and they have not had to return to remote learning, which has been a big concern for district officials.

However, board member Larry Pyers discussed what is called long COVID, where children and adults have symptoms that continue for months and even years after they contract the virus. He wondered whether the district should continue to protect students from that possibility, especially the youngest students who don’t have access to vaccines.

“One of the most problematic issues with this disease is you don’t have any idea of how it will affect you until you get it,” he said.

School board members said that if masking becomes optional, schools would need to have conversations with students about being kind and showing grace to those who continue to wear masks. They said mask-shaming would not be tolerated and suggested that putting mask-shaming into the district’s anti-bullying policy might be necessary.

Haag said the school district could provide KN-95 masks to those who want to continue to wear masks.

The Clear Creek High School/Middle School student government surveyed students with 128 responses. More than 80% said masks should be optional for everyone, while 12.5% said to keep them mandatory. About 6% said it didn’t matter.

The Clear Creek County Education Association’s key points, Quanbeck said, were that if the mask mandate was canceled, it shouldn’t be reinstated. Teachers said enforcement was becoming more difficult in classrooms.

Quanbeck explained that in January, the mask mandate was important in part to keep teachers healthy and in classrooms, though the district is not struggling with that issue now.

More masking concerns

Board member Kelly Flenniken noted that students don’t need to wear masks outside school, so it seems heavy-handed to require them to be worn in school, which could be harming their relationship with their school.

“As kids are going through so much, they are struggling to connect with teachers,” Flenniken said. “I’m sad that relationships are being harmed between students and teachers.”

Board member Jessica North noted that students in extracurricular activities and athletics, especially at CCHS/MS, are wearing masks up to 12 hours a day, which is onerous.

Flenniken also was concerned that keeping the mask mandate when neighboring schools were abolishing it would result in some families leaving the district, something the district can’t afford. She noted that some parents who are in favor of masks, who have not been as vocal, also could leave the district if masks aren’t required.

Haag said there was a lot to be said for seeing your teacher smile.

“We have second graders who have never seen their teachers smile, and that hurts my heart,” she said.