FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 file photo, Students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla. President Joe Biden has called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona, praising them for doing what he called “the right thing” after their respective boards implemented mask requirements in defiance of their Republican governors amid growing COVID-19 infections. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

GREENWOOD VILLAGE | Tri-County Health Department officials considering mandatory  masks in area schools were inundated Monday with public requests to speak to the issue, but only about 30 were allowed to advocate their opposing views.

More than 2,000 people asked to speak at the 90-minute public forum held by the Tri-County Health officials. Another 10,000 people flooded the department with emailed opinions. 

Judgment on mandating masks in schools, wildly controversial in the region, and across the country, was sharply divided. Some residents implored the board to implement a mandate for the safety of students, and others decried it as government overreach.

After public comment, the board went into closed session for about two hours to deliberate. Officials said the board is scheduled to reconvene 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to vote on mask mandates in schools.

Controversy over requiring masks for students has raged in the past several days as the new school year gets underway. Public health guidance on masks in schools began to change just in the last few weeks. Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tri-County last week strongly recommended that all students and employees wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status to slow the transmission of the delta variant of COVID-19.

However, local districts did not all follow suit when rolling out health plans for the new school year. The Cherry Creek School District initially only recommended masking and did not require it for anyone. Aurora Public Schools said that unvaccinated staff would be required to wear masks, but not anyone else.

On Friday, both districts changed course following a letter from Tri-County Director Dr. John Douglas, sent to Cherry Creek Superintendent Chris Smith, which said that it was not safe for children under 12 to go to school without masks because they are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Cherry Creek will now require masks for students in Pre-K through sixth grade and their teachers. APS will require students in child development centers, elementary schools and K-8 schools to wear masks.

At the forum, some parents urged the health department to take the matter further and implement a public health order requiring all students and staff to wear masks in school buildings.

Andrea Nelson has two immunocompromised children in the Douglas County School District. They were looking forward to returning to in-person school, but the family was told by their doctor that it was not safe for them because the district is not requiring masks.

“I’m so disappointed in the lack of caution our schools are taking this school year,” she said.

Others criticized a mask mandate, claiming that masks were damaging to students’ mental health and were unnecessary due to young children’s low rates of contracting COVID-19.

Stephanie Burt, a parent of students in Cherry Creek schools, said that the district “pulled the rug out from under us” by mandating masks on Friday, and that schools should focus on hand washing and quarantining instead.

The first two speakers on Monday both urged families to take their children out of school during the period where school enrollment is counted for funding purposes in order to punish school districts that have mask requirements.

The majority of speakers said that they had children in the Douglas County School District. There were only a few Cherry Creek parents who spoke, and none from APS.

The board initially was going to randomly select speakers, with the intent of creating a representative sample of opinions and geographic location. After board member Dr. Linda Fielding objected, the board instead simply solicited pro- and anti-mask speakers one after another.

Selection grew chaotic as the meeting continued, with the board attempting to get more speakers from outside Douglas County and trying to manually balance the opinions’ of speakers.

The board did not know at the start of the meeting how many of those who submitted feedback were for or against a mandate. After the closed session ended, President Kaia Gallagher said it would be taking into consideration everything said at the forum along with written comments before it votes tomorrow. She apologized to everyone who did not get a chance to speak.

“We appreciate all of your patience,” she said. “This is a really important decision.”

6 replies on “Over 2,000 ask to speak at Tri-County Health forum for and against school mask mandate”

  1. These type of decisions should be made at the elected, school board level after consultation with Tri-County Board of Health and not at the unelected, Appointed, health department level. The school board is the closest elected position to the people and at the end of the day are accountable to the people. There is no longer a declared emergency regarding COVID. Our overreaching government bureaucracy needs to return the power back over to the people.

    Contact your County Commissioners, who appoint the unelected health department board members, and insist that these issues be handled at the school board level. One size does not fit all in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams Counties.

    Rod Bockenfeld
    State Representative
    Eastern Arapahoe & Adams Counties
    HD # 56

  2. This article isn’t as even handed as it should be, but I do commend the Sentinel for not going all in for masks. The one example of the mother with immunocompromised was heart wrenching, but so too was the mother speaking of her 4 year old wanting to kill herself because of masks (a child that had a 4.0 at was on the deans list). How do we balance the collateral damage on both sides? I attended this meeting as I was undecided on the matter. Many of the more convincing arguments to me came from the non-masking group. Most of the “if it saves one life it is worth it” came from the pro-masking group. What was particularly impactful was the commentary from the data scientists explaining 1) the polling generated by Tri-County was biased in favor of masking and thus flawed, 2) childhood morbidity is non-existent, 3) childhood suicide rates are jumping dramatically, 4) the long-term impacts of masks are unknown by the CDC and current studies show masks are not safe and healthy for the wearer. After attending the call, which the replay should be made public, it seemed to me that this is a lose, lose situation, and that the parents should decide what is best for their kids. The parents in favor can put them on their kids, and if masks work then no covid infection but those parents can deal with the potential short term and long term detriments of having a dirty mask suffocating their children, and the risk of higher suicide rates, just as the parents who choose to not have children wear a “toxic cloth” can deal with the implications of potentially contracting a virus that has virtually no morbidity in 12 and younger, and also ward off the risks of suicide. After the call, I did do some research, and the school age in question have a higher risk of death from drowning and suicide than COVID.

    1. Thank you!!!! I agree 100000000% each family should get to decide. My son is 6 and had a restriction with his breathing so last year he did remote. He had the surgery in March to correct the issue on his heart that caused his restriction with his breathing but mentally it hasn’t clicked for him. He just knows he wasn’t able to breath his whole life. I put a mask on him and he starts hyperventilating and crying and says he can’t breath. Due to him having the surgery they won’t give him a medical exemption because they don’t care about mental, it has to be physical. I paid a shit load of money to enroll him in a private school and now this government over reach could put me back at square one and I’ll have to homeschool another year. This will be extremely hard on him as he was so excited to go to school and meet new friends. I just don’t understand why we can’t make our own decisions for our kids and families.

  3. I attended this meeting, it was just for show. It seems odd that 1) the data scientist commented the poll was biased in how it was crafted skewing results to mask up, 2) the results of the 10,000 comments did not get shown (even if biased), 3) 50/50 comment period was mandated where the random sample of the ~2,000 participants would have given a better sense of how the areas actually align. This felt coordinated so that they could check a legal box before getting a legal green light to mandate masks. This has always been a race to the bottom. Dr. John Douglas wasn’t going to change his mind, he has demonstrated that he thinks the citizens are rubes. He basically said as much with Cory Wise at the DCSD parent meeting previously and clearly shows his intentions with his letters to Cherry Creek.
    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” C.S. Lewis
    It would be nice to know how we vote Dr. Douglas out, it seems like he thinks Douglas County is named after him.

  4. It makes no sense to argue that masks are an issue of personal “rights” where the whole point of wearing masks is to keep OTHER PEOPLE safe. We all know that we give up certain rights to be a part of a functioning society. Our country is flush with examples of personal rights ending when our actions harm others according to experts. You can drink alcohol all you want in your own house but, once you’re drinking in a public establishment and your blood alcohol reaches a level where it’s not safe to drive as determined by experts, you do not have the right to drive and expose others to harm. This is no different. You have the personal right to stay home and homeschool your kids without masks, but once you’re sending your kids to a public school and the experts determine it’s unsafe for your kids to go without masks in schools, you do not have the right to send your kids to school without a mask and harm others.

    I assume many of the other posters know this, and that’s why they resort to trying to argue that wearing masks is either unsafe or unhelpful. But there’s not an iota of scientific, medical, or mental health evidence that supports these arguments and there’s a huge amount of evidence to the contrary. It is silly to say things like masks have caused suicides or “childhood morbidity doesn’t exist.” These are not serious attempts to debate a public health issue based on the actual facts and actual science. When you are making up facts and science to support your position it means you know that your position isn’t really supported. Sadly, these type of arguments don’t just undermine your position; they undermine your credibility.

    1. Agreed. If people quote it long enough and often enough it seems to become fact. But masks don’t cause suicide or childhood depression. They don’t make you sick (dirty masks) assuming you’re not dipping them in toxic ???. If what you exhale is toxic, then obviously it was already inside you before you exhaled it and “dirtied” your mask. And if inhaling through the mask made it dirty — that’s the point! Even when COVID (if I guess) goes away, masks are just a good idea for everyone, all the time, everywhere.

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