Colorado leaders urge school districts to require masks

As many students return to classrooms where masks are optional, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the state health department’s executive director, Jill Hunsaker Ryan, are urging school districts and charter schools to adopt mask requirements, especially for unvaccinated people, to protect students and make sure they can stay in school.

Colorado has left decisions about COVID safety protocols up to local leaders, even as the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that calls for everyone to wear masks in school settings, regardless of vaccination status.

But most school districts and many independent charter schools have only recommended masks, not required them.

In a letter sent Tuesday to superintendents and charter school leaders, Polis and Ryan noted the alarming increase in COVID cases among children, including severe cases that require hospitalization, in states that decided not to institute mitigation measures such as masks. Polis and Ryan also noted the increase in quarantines and switches to remote learning that have occurred in some communities.

“As state leaders and as parents of school aged children, these trends are troubling to us; it’s worrisome that some of Colorado’s school districts and schools might suffer the same outcome if they do not take recommended actions to protect their students and staff, and preserve in-person learning,” they wrote.

While the letter hinted that the state might impose tougher COVID protocols under certain conditions, Polis seemed to back away from that possibility at a news conference Wednesday in which he expressed respect for different values and levels of risk tolerance around the state.

“We have a system in our state where the opinions of the majority of parents through our democratic institutions of school boards are generally reflected in the safety protocols taken in the schools,” he said. “And it’s okay that different communities and different families in different parts of our state have different risk thresholds. There is no right or wrong when it comes to risk thresholds. There’s parents who don’t let their 16-year-old drive and there’s others who do.”

Read the full story from our partners at chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit co.chalkbeat.org.

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