Aurora-region school districts say mask exemption requests remain low

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AURORA | Aurora school districts have approved a limited number of requests for students to be exempt from the Tri-County Health Department mandate that masks be worn in schools.

Cherry Creek has received around 30 requests for students to be exempt from the mask mandate, and fewer than 10 have been approved by the district, spokesperson Abbe Smith told the Sentinel. Two staff members have also been granted exemptions.

At APS, mask exemptions are being handled by individual schools, and the district does not have data on how many have been requested.

“Anecdotally, we have not heard of a significant number of exemption requests for students,” district spokesperson Corey Christiansen said in an email.

APS is also mandating that district employees be vaccinated. It has received 99 requests for vaccine exemptions from staff and 90 have been approved.

In Cherry Creek, exemption requests are handled by an accommodations committee, which includes the district’s 504 coordinator, a health services team member and an executive director of schools, Smith said.

At APS, Christiansen said in an email that “there have been so few requests that schools haven’t needed to set up staffing for this. Exemption requests are handled on a case by case basis.”

Medical reasons that a child should not wear a mask include if they have a severe physical or developmental disability and could not remove their face covering on their own if they were having trouble breathing, Children’s Hospital Colorado spokesperson Sarah Davis said in an email. Significant sensory sensitivities, particularly in children with autism, can also preclude mask wearing.

Some parents have been attempting to get medical exemptions from mask mandates for their children despite not fitting the criteria. According to reporting from the Colorado Sun, one pediatrician’s office in Castle Rock has received hundreds of such requests, with parents becoming aggressive when denied.

Aurora pediatricians contacted by the Sentinel said that had not been a significant issue for them.

Allison Thaler, a representative for Rocky Mountain Health Centers Pediatrics in Aurora, said the only reason the practice would provide a form for a medical exemption is if a child had a significant disability, and it has yet to receive any such requests.

A notice on the website of Advanced Pediatric Associates says that it will not provide letters for mask exemption requests.

“We are following Centers for Disease recommendations as well as the new order put in place by Tri-County Health Department requiring that all children over the age of 2 years should be wearing a mask in all school and childcare settings, or when going out in public areas,” the notice said. “This is especially important when social distancing may not be possible and for those that cannot be vaccinated yet.”

Laura Luzietti, a representative for Every Child Pediatrics in Aurora, said she is not aware of mask exemption requests being a major issue for the practice.

Anecdotally, she has heard that some parents are attempting to get exemptions because their children simply dislike wearing masks, or because they have asthma. That is not a legitimate medical reason.

“It’s perfectly safe for kids with asthma to wear masks,” she said.

Ultimately, wearing a mask indoors is “the safest thing kids can do to protect themselves before they can be vaccinated,” she said.

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