Garfield Re-2 mask mandate ends Monday
Universal mask mandates within all Garfield Re-2 schools will be lifted Monday, the district announced.
Garfield Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley told school board members during a regular meeting Wednesday districtwide drops in COVID-19 cases helped prompt the decision.
“I do believe we are ready,” Garfield Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley said. “We are ready to move forward with these protocols.”
Starting Monday, the district will highly encourage students and staff to wear masks, while quarantine procedures will not occur following reports of exposure.
Any student who does exhibit high fever, however, will still be asked to quarantine for five days before returning to school. Meanwhile, each school is providing masks to students who request them, while several more mitigation strategies will still be in effect.
District data shows a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases among Garfield Re-2 staff and students. From Jan. 11 to Feb. 8, total positive cases within the district fell from 165 to 41.
An outbreak in late September 2021 triggered district officials to eventually implement a mask mandate, per recommendations by Garfield County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
By Sept. 23, 2021, 150 students and eight staff were quarantined due to in-school or outside exposure, data from the district’s online dashboard show.
The mandate was implemented Sept. 27 and was met quickly by opposition from district parents and community members.
On Oct. 13, 2021, former school board member Katie Mackley announced her resignation, citing harassment over COVID-19 protocols as playing a key role behind the decision.
In January, school board members Tony May and Britton Fletchall, who have not worn masks to school board meetings since being sworn in last December, proposed doing away with the mandate.
Since then, more mask mandate proponents have come to school board meetings to offer public comment, asking the district to be cautious in lifting protocols to not harm the district’s most vulnerable members.
Despite the recent drop in COVID-19 cases within the district, some parents have also pointed out that positive cases now are still comparable to the district’s original outbreak in fall.
“This is science, and by ignoring the health care workers and the scientists who are saying it’s too soon, you’re teaching children that science doesn’t matter,” district parents Brittany and Nick Cocina said in a letter to the board. “You aren’t paying attention. You aren’t doing research. You are using skewed data for your confirmation bias, and that’s not what the board should represent.”
From when school started in late August until Sept. 21, 2021, the district saw 13 employees and 43 students contract COVID-19.
On the flipside, parents and community members in favor of removing the masks argue the mandate exacerbated mental health issues within the student body.
“These are some real things that are going to follow these kids for a long time,” district parent Brooklyn Barkman said on Wednesday. “There are kids who don’t know what it’s like to go to school without masks.”
Garfield County Public Health Environmental Health Manager Josh Williams said in a Thursday email that “Garfield County Board of Health continues to recommend that schools follow CDPHE guidance in regards to establishing COVID-19 policies.”
As of Feb. 9, the CDPHE still recommends everyone wear masks and get fully vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Despite any recommendation, however, school districts in Garfield County are free to determine what policies they intend to follow.
“Garfield County Board of Health does not have a local county public health order in place requiring ‘masks’ nor does it have a local public health order that exempts ‘masks’ in schools,” Williams said.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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