Anyone and everyone inside a Jeffco Public Schools building will be expected to wear a mask.
The district had been allowing medical and religious exemptions, but the new health order only allows medical exemptions
The district said there will be a supply of masks available at each school for those who need one.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story ommited the name of Beth Parker from her direct quotes in this story. This version of the story has corrected that error.
Timing, as they say, is everything.
At 5:40 p.m., Monday, Aug. 16 — the evening before the first day of school for roughly 80,000 Jeffco students, Jefferson County Public Schools sent out a notice informing parents that all Jeffco PK-12 students in the county would be required to wear masks in school.
The updated policy was a result of a late-breaking Public Health Order issued by Jefferson County Public Health’s Executive Director, Dawn Comstock.
The email to families of Jeffco students was direct and to the point.
“Late this afternoon, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) issued a Public Health Order (PHO 21-002) requiring masks be worn inside all schools and childcare settings, PK-12 for all individuals aged 2 and older regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required in any location that serves students age 2 and older,” it read. “We must follow this PHO beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, August 17. All Jeffco Public Schools students, staff, visitors, and volunteers must wear masks while indoors in our schools and district buildings.”
Prior to the PHO being issued, Jeffco Public Schools intended to require only students aged 3-11 to be masked. Masking for vaccinated students over the age of 12 would have been optional.
This new Public Health Order comes in the wake of protests and discord among parents who object to mask requirements in schools. Protest organizer and member of Jeffco Unites: Kids First, Beth Parker, took issue with the timing and substance of the PHO.
“As a parent, I think that springing a PHO on families 14 hours before school starts is just outside the realm of what should be acceptable,” she said. “Health departments are supposed to act as disinterested parties based on objective principals — much like The Supreme Court. Dr. Comstock is redefining the mission of a health department as an unelected political body — and that is just not acceptable. The fact that our school board should be considering this in absence of of an emergency declaration is perplexing. Where are they? Why haven’t they voted?”
Jeffco School Board member, Susan Miller, a vocal opponent of mask mandates in schools, said she was deeply troubled by Dr. Comstock’s latest public health order, mandating the masking of children in schools.
"Dr. Comstock has not provided any analysis of the reduction of COVID infection risk in schools that has already been provided by vaccination, ventilation, and filtration," Miller said. "Nor has she provided any analysis of the incremental benefits of masking children for six hours, compared to the vastly higher incremental cost – for example, further learning losses that are unlikely to ever be fully recovered."
In the PHO, JCPH cited several reasons for the change including current Jefferson County COVID-19 transmission rates.
“As of August 14, 2021, the CDC identifies Jefferson County as an area with high transmission at a 7-day new COVID-19 case rate of 119.4 per 100,000.1,” the order read. “Case counts and hospitalizations have recently increased rapidly due to the presence of variants in Colorado and insufficiently high vaccination rates to achieve herd immunity.”
The Order also addressed case numbers affecting individuals aged 0-19 in the county. According to JCPH, roughly 28.6% of all confirmed Jefferson County outbreaks reported in the fall of 2020 were either in childcare or pre-K through grade 12 school settings, and there were approximately 7,215 diagnosed infections during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters in the childcare/pre-K through grade 12 age group.
A number of exceptions and exemptions exist for students unable to comply with the County mandated PHO.
Children under the age of 2, individuals who can’t tolerate a face covering and students who require special educational service needs that can’t be conducted while wearing a Face Covering are exempt from the order.
Exceptions to the order will be made for hearing impaired individuals (or those communicating with hearing impaired individuals) who need to see each other’s mouth to communicate.
There will also be exceptions for students during meal and snack time although six feet of social distancing must be maintained if occurring indoors. Exceptions will also be made for people asked to move their mask temporarily for identification purposes and those actively engaged in a public safety role, such as members of law enforcement. Other exceptions exist for students swimming in pools or playing certain musical instruments.
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