Colorado's public-health department released new K-12 school COVID-19 guidelines in late July, but the new guidance “does not constitute statewide requirements,” a state news release said. Instead, the guidance outlines “best practices” for local governments and school districts.
With Tri-County Health Department and the state deciding not to require masks, the choice of whether to mandate masks fell to school districts. Here's a look at what other school districts are doing:
• In Denver Public Schools, masks will be required for all students, visitors and staff while in all schools and buildings, regardless of vaccination status, according to the district's website.
• In Aurora Public Schools, masks will be strongly recommended for all students who are unvaccinated, according to the district's website. All staff who are vaccinated will not be required to wear face masks at schools and district sites. All staff members who are unvaccinated will be required to wear masks in the workplace.
• In Douglas County Schools, masks will be “strongly encouraged” for students 11 and younger when learning indoors. The same is true for students 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated. Masks will not be required.
• Jeffco Public Schools will require in-school masking for ages 3 through 11. For students age 12 and above, masks indoors are strongly recommended for unvaccinated students and recommended for vaccinated students in alignment with guidance from Jefferson County Public Health, according to a news release.
• Littleton Public Schools is planning to start the 2021-22 school year without a mask requirement. Schools will practice physical distancing as much as is possible without disrupting the learning environment.
• In Englewood Schools, the district announced Aug. 4 that the wearing of masks by all students, visitors and staff inside its schools will be required this fall, regardless of whether a person is vaccinated for COVID-19 or not.
• For the Adams County area: In Adams 12 Five Star Schools, masks are recommended for all students, regardless of vaccination status, but are not required. 27J Schools (Brighton area) will also not require students to wear masks indoors. But in Westminster Public Schools, all students, staff and teachers will be required to wear masks when indoors. Students in all three school districts are required to wear masks on buses.
Source: Colorado Community Media staff reporting.
After concerns about the Delta coronavirus variant drove new federal guidelines for mask-wearing indoors for all people in certain areas — regardless of vaccination status — the Cherry Creek School District has announced that it won't require masks for the school year that begins this month.
“All students and staff are strongly encouraged to wear a face mask in school,” a letter to the community from Superintendent Christopher Smith said on Aug. 4.
Mask-wearing played “a key role” in the last school year in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus inside schools, Smith's letter said.
“The decision on whether to have your child wear a mask in school will be up to each family,” the letter continued. “We will work with families to accommodate their students' needs and comfort levels so that every student has an enjoyable and safe learning environment.”
However, all students and staff are required to wear masks on school buses regardless of vaccination status, the district's letter said.
That requirement echoes the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order that requires masks on public transportation and at transportation hubs.
During the last school year, students and staff were required to wear masks on buses as well — and in all buildings and on school property, according to Abbe Smith, spokesperson for the school district.
The district couldn't immediately provide exact numbers on school bus ridership, but Smith said that typically about 40% of the district's school populations ride the buses. That number was down last year, though the district didn't have an estimate of how much lower it was.
A loosened quarantine policy will likely continue this year compared to the policies that were in effect last school year.
“Our partners at Tri-County Health Department will be contact-tracing positive cases and will guide the school district if/when quarantining is necessary,” the superintendent's letter said.
Contact tracing is a term for when public health workers notify people that they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
In Tri-County's jurisdiction of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, students who are exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom will not be required to quarantine from school except in instances that are high risk: unmasked direct contact in sports, choir or with medically fragile students, John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health, said on July 23.
“All students and staff that are exposed should still monitor closely for symptoms and are not permitted to attend school if they develop symptoms,” Douglas said.
Individual cases and potential outbreaks of COVID-19 — and all reportable medical conditions — are still required to be reported to public health officials, Douglas said.
Students or staff members who experience symptoms associated with COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19 must stay home from school and school-related activities, the school district's letter said.
“Anyone who tests positive for COVID must follow county health department guidelines and may return to school at the end of their isolation period (and improved symptoms),” the letter said.
Students experiencing specific COVID-like symptoms during the school day will be referred to a school nurse for further assessment, according to the letter.
The district reminded families that no-cost COVID-19 testing is available for students and staff through an initiative called COVIDCheck Colorado.
“We continue to encourage those who are symptomatic to get tested for COVID-19. Sites are open throughout the metro area, including at the CCSD Instructional Support Facility (ISF),” the letter said.
The district also reminded families that all people 12 or older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no charge. It pointed the community to the vaccination resources listed on the district's website here.
“If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider or call the Colorado COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). You can also get vaccine information from your CCSD school nurse,” the letter said.
After the CDC released new mask guidance in late July, Tri-County echoed that guidance, saying in a July 30 release that it recommends that “all persons wear masks in school settings regardless of vaccination status and, as long as we have rising rates of community transmission, that everyone including fully vaccinated persons wear a mask in public indoor settings.”
The CDC guidance update was based on surges in infection due to the Delta variant in many parts of the United States, as well as evolving understanding of vaccinated persons' ability to transmit Delta infection and slowing rates of vaccination, according to a Tri-County news release.
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