Parental group hands ‘cease and desist’ warning against Garfield Re-2 School Board over mask requirements
Parents and residents handed the Garfield Re-2 School Board Wednesday a cease and desist letter in response to the district’s recent announcement to switch to universal mask requirements, but it’s unlikely the letter results in a policy shift anytime soon.
Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction Julie Knowles said the district is legally obligated to quarantine students when there is an outbreak of COVID-19 within schools.
“Some have suggested a remedy for this is that we just simply don’t quarantine, but we know that is against the state law,” she said. “Even before COVID happened, our public health entities were empowered with the ability to quarantine individuals to help mitigate the spread of disease, whether it’s COVID or measles or whatever it may be. So, it is very clear that we are required to cooperate with public health.”
So far the district, one of 17% in the entire nation to remain in-person last school year, has seen at least 67 individuals test positive for COVID-19, even when masks were encouraged at the beginning of the school year. Meanwhile, there have been 373 quarantines since the school year started.
Knowles said the district will lift COVID-19 protocols once 80% of individuals in a school eligible for a vaccine are vaccinated, a guideline put in place by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education. The district does not ask students if they are vaccinated or not, Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said.
In addition, if the county COVID-19 incident rate drops lower than 35 per 100,000 people in a seven-day period, the district will no longer have to quarantine for routine exposures, Knowles said. The current incident rate in Garfield County is 142.9 per 100,000 people.
“We also know that we are having some challenges filling our open positions when teachers are unable to come to school,” she said. “Those are 61 staff vacancies we have not been able to fill.”
“We are very concerned about being able to keep our doors open,” she added.
The letter demands the district lift COVID-19-related policies in relation to masks and quarantines. Since it is a cease and desist letter — and not an order — the school district has no obligation to respond to it.
Hamilton said the district will review the document with the district’s legal council.
“I can tell you that the Garfield Re-2 School District is confident that we are not violating the law,” she said Thursday. “And in following the CDPHE guidance, we are trying to protect the community, which includes students, family and staff.”
Local parent Jeff Powers, one of the unofficial leaders of the COVID-19 protocol opposition group, said they were providing a cease and desist letter to the entire school board as well as district administrators.
Names on the letter include all board members, as well as superintendent Heather Grumley and fellow administrators Lisa Pierce, Sarah Bell, John Oldham, Knowles and Hamilton.
“We have a paid legal counsel and we are taking formal legal action to protect our children from unlawful and harmful health mandates against him issued by these named individuals,” he said. “In very short order, we have obtained at least 1,400 signatures from Re-2 parents and concerned citizens in this community.”
Powers said if the district decides not to follow “the will of the people in this matter immediately,” further legal action will be taken.
Wednesday’s regularly scheduled school board meeting started off unlike most. More than 100 people showed up to the back parking lot of the Re-2 Administration building, many of whom were opponents of the mask order, which is slated to go into effect Monday.
About 37 people were scheduled to make public comment Wednesday. Transitioning Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein had to list speaker’s names off outside of the building so the school board room wouldn’t reach capacity.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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