Garfield Re-2 prepares to lift universal mask mandate
Garfield Re-2 leaders are addressing what to do next with its universal mask mandate.
A new board proposal, which the district is currently addressing with its legal counsel and Garfield County Public Health officials, says students will not be required to wear masks on school premises. Instead, mask wearing will be “highly recommended,” while following any exposure to COVID-19, students and staff will “have the option” to quarantine.
The proposal follows a recent discussion by the Garfield County commissioners regarding COVID-19 protocols. The discussion ultimately left pandemic protocol policy up to local school districts, as it has been throughout the entire pandemic.
Disposable masks, however, will remain available at all district buildings.
“I know there’s still vulnerable people out there,” board president Meriya Stickler said. “But we’re flipping the model.”
A Garfield Re-2 mask mandate has been in place since Sept. 27, 2021, while students and staff are currently required to quarantine if exposed.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” board member Britton Fletchall said. “We’re doing the right thing.”
Fletchall and fellow board member Tony May had originally proposed doing away with mask mandates earlier in January. Although May and Fletchall’s proposal failed to gain traction, the board directed to send out a survey asking district parents and teachers how comfortable they would be under new COVID-19 protocols.
Superintendent Heather Grumley and Assistant Superintendent Lisa Pierce highlighted the results of that survey during the Jan. 26 meeting.
Of the 850 staff at Garfield Re-2, 435 people responded. Of the ones who did, 55% said they were comfortable with being in an unmasked in-person learning environment, with the remaining 45% saying they weren’t.
Meanwhile, of the 3,500 families in the district, 402 parents responded to the same question. Among respondents, 67% said they were comfortable with students being unmasked, while the remaining 33% said they weren’t.
“Eighty eight percent of our families did not answer that question,” Grumley said.
In addition to the survey, district officials said the notion to scrap the mask mandate comes as COVID-19 cases within the district continue to drop.
“As we watched our data this week, we’ve definitely seen a decline in the reported cases of COVID in students and staff,” Grumley said. “So we seem to have hit that high point last Wednesday, Jan. 19.”
According to the district’s online COVID-19 dashboard, there were 161 student and 38 staff quarantines as of Jan. 10, which is still significantly higher than quarantines between early October 2021 to early January.
The district has yet to update quarantine numbers online since last week’s meeting.
The new proposal to remove masks also comes after months of parents coming to Garfield Re-2 school board meetings and expressing staunch opposition to COVID-19 protocols.
By Oct. 13, former board member Katie Mackley cited screaming at school board meetings and threats to her and her family’s safety as reasons behind officially resigning.
Another long public comment section followed the COVID-19 discussion. Opponents of the mask mandate continued to argue that mandates are affecting student mental health. On the flipside, proponents of the mandate said they have children who are highly vulnerable to experiencing health issues if they were to contract COVID-19.
Former Garfield Re-2 board member and parent John “Brock” Hedberg argued the district, which usually imposes COVID-19 rules under the guidance of Garfield County Public Health, was never legally mandated to impose mask requirements in the first place.
Hedberg said, instead, the district continued to tell constituents that they would be held liable if they hadn’t followed guidelines.
“That’s two lies that your district lawyer — that we employ as constituents and that you guys have hired — told you,” he said. “So I emailed him and he never responded back to me.”
Angela Strode, a local parent and family practice lawyer, openly refuted Hedberg’s claim, saying school districts are federally mandated to provide a safe environment for all students.
In addition, she advised the district to move slowly on any rollbacks.
“Our cases continue to be through the roof,” she said. “So, talking about rollbacks right now of some of the protocols is hard to stomach.”
“I would also just ask that you not make our district and our kids and our teachers guinea pigs for a rollback.”
Once public health officials and the school district’s attorney review the new COVID-19 protocol, the board will vote on whether to remove the mask mandate.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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