Furor over mask mandate at Littleton school board meeting

District officials hear complaints from speakers

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The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education was met with a host of attendees decrying the district's mask mandate during a Sept. 9 meeting.

Shortly before opening the meeting to public comment, board President Robert Reichardt faced several attendees who refused to wear masks or leave the room due to the incoming presence of a student. Littleton Public Schools, which is complying with the Tri-County Health Department's mask mandate for students ages 2 to 11, requires people who come in contact with students to wear a mask.

Reichardt was forced to call a five-minute recess to the meeting until the unmasked attendees left. Afterward, he resumed the night's schedule, which led to a slew of anti-mask mandate sentiments from attendees.

“People in seats like yours make terrible decisions using fear,” said Shelly Thompson, who spoke during the public comment period and said she is a parent of a Littleton Public Schools student.

Thompson accused Reichardt, along with the rest of the school board, of allowing the fear of COVID-19 to inhibit children's learning. She said the pandemic is not dangerous for children and called mask requirements unnecessary.

Littleton district schools have reported a steady rise in COVID cases among children and staff since the school year began in August, especially among pre-K and elementary school students. Across the state, COVID cases have risen among children ages 6 to 17, driven by students younger than 12 who are ineligible for the vaccine as well as the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

But public commenters decried further safety protections during the meeting, and several said COVID is not a dangerous threat to their children's health.

Jennifer Barr, who described herself as a parent, said she was not anti-mask or anti-vaccination but said parents should have the ability to choose what's best for their children when it comes to those options. Littleton Public Schools currently does not have a vaccine mandate for students.

“These mandates are being forced upon our children by an unelected body,” Barr said, referring to Tri-County Health.

Other speakers took more aim at the legitimacy of the pandemic and science-based responses intended to protect public safety.

Vanessa Kelly called COVID a “plandemic,” a term coined by a 2020 conspiracy documentary of the same name about the pandemic and vaccines. She also likened masking children to child abuse.

Despite the pushback from speakers, Reichardt, the board's president, did not make any mention of a possible change to the mask mandate for Littleton schools. Reichardt and other board members, as well as everyone present, continued to wear masks throughout the public comment period due to the presence of a student.

Amanda Crosby, head of the teachers' union, said she understands that parents have mixed opinions about what is best for their children.

While she said her union has not taken a side on the mask mandate, the union will support whatever is necessary to ensure children and staff can remain learning in-person.

“We want everyone, staff and students alike, to be safe and healthy and in-person,” she said.

Tensions over mask mandates have boiled over in some school districts around the Denver metro area. A debate over masking engulfed Jefferson County's school board members recently.

Tri-County Health Department's decision to mandate masks for children in all schools and childcare centers in its jurisdiction led to Douglas County's decision to move forward with a split from the department. Vowing to form its own health department, Douglas County's decision has been met with both praise and criticism. Arapahoe County, which includes Littleton Public Schools and is part of Tri-County, has warned it may pursue legal action to fight the timetable of Douglas County's move.

This article has been updated. 

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