After initially saying it would “strongly encourage” — but not require — masks in school, the Cherry Creek School District has announced it will require masks for all students in pre-K through sixth grade and the staff who work with them.
“During a conversation with Dr. (John) Douglas this morning, he stated to me that the conditions in schools are presently not safe for unvaccinated children, particularly those younger than 12 years old, without masks,” wrote Christopher Smith, Cherry Creek superintendent, in an Aug. 13 letter to the community.
The school district will require masks inside school buildings for students in those grades. More than 90% of students in sixth grade are in the relevant age group, Smith wrote in explaining why the district will require masks for sixth-graders until further notice.
The policy change comes on the heels of Tri-County Health Department announcing on Aug. 12 that it may consider issuing a mask requirement for at least some students in school districts in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
Tri-County Health's board of health has asked to hold a public comment meeting to discuss whether the agency should issue an order requiring masking in schools. The meeting has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 16, according to a letter from Douglas, the executive director of Tri-County Health.
That letter from Douglas to Smith, dated Aug. 13, says: “Transmission of COVID-19, exacerbated by the more-transmissible Delta variant, is highly likely in the school setting without high levels of mask-wearing.”
The letter also says virus spread in schools would pose “considerable risk” in the following ways:
• Risk to the health of children, especially those not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
• Risk of transmission to family and friends outside of the school setting, especially for those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
• Risk of interference with in-person learning due to isolation of positive COVID-19 cases and quarantine of children exposed in outbreak situations.
“This (point) is particularly important toward our shared goal of maintaining a high level of in-person learning with its positive impact on education, mental health and social-emotional development of our children,” Douglas wrote.
Smith, the superintendent, has “repeatedly stated that we will follow guidance from our health experts,” he wrote in the letter to the Cherry Creek community.
“Safety is our highest priority, and the goal is to maintain in-person learning. This mask requirement will help us keep schools open and students in classrooms,” Smith added.
And while the district did not make masks mandatory for students in grade seven and above “at this time,” the district reiterated in the letter that it is “strongly recommended that all students and staff wear masks inside school buildings regardless of vaccination status.”
The school district made the earlier announcement about strongly encouraging, but not requiring, all students and staff to wear masks on Aug. 4.
In the new letter, the superintendent also briefly touched on addressing mental health needs of students in the new school year.
“From day one, we will focus on meeting the needs of every single student,” Smith wrote. “Our mental health professionals and school counselors will be working with teachers to ensure that all students start the year off with the supports they need to thrive.”
Separately, it's unclear how broad a potential Tri-County Health mask order for schools would be. The agency may consider an approach that “focuses largely” on younger kids, those under age 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated, Douglas said in an Aug. 12 meeting of the agency's board of health.
But “some would argue a mandate that includes every kid (is easier to apply),” Douglas said during the meeting. “Both these strategies are worth considering.”
A potential school mask mandate from Tri-County would apply to all school districts in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, according to Douglas, the health chief.
It's unlikely that any district could opt out of the mask order if Tri-County does issue it, although the board of health “hasn't completely addressed that,” Douglas told Colorado Community Media on Aug. 13.
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