CENTENNIAL | Disagreement over whether Cherry Creek’s masking guidelines will be sufficient to keep students safe this school year took center stage at the district’s first board meeting of the new school year, as dozens of people spoke during public comment.
Over 100 people signed up for public comment, but only 77 ended up speaking at the meeting, which didn’t end until after 11 p.m. Attendees and those signed up for public comment filled the main room and spilled into an overflow room broadcasting a live feed at the district’s Fremont Building.
It was the second late meeting in a row for the board, following a June meeting where more than 70 people spoke out both against critical race theory and in favor of the district doing more diversity and equity work.
Both of those sentiments were once again voiced during public comment, but the main topic of debate was the district’s decision to strongly recommend but not require masks for any students or employees this school year.
Districts across the metro area have taken different tacks regarding mask mandates. Aurora Public Schools is requiring masks for employees who are not vaccinated, but only recommending them for students. Denver Public Schools is requiring masks for all students and employees regardless of vaccination status, and Jeffco Public Schools is requiring masks for unvaccinated staff and students too young to be vaccinated.
Cherry Creek has said it is taking its health guidance from the Tri-County Health Department, which last week sent a letter to area superintendents urging for universal masking policies in school but not imposing a mandate.
“At this point, universal masking should be understood not as a requirement but as a strong science-based recommendation,” the letter said.
At Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Chris Smith said that the district would impose a mask mandate if it was required by Tri-County, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or an order from the governor’s office.
Some parents who spoke thanked the district for its stance, saying they wanted to be able to decide whether or not to have their children wear masks.
“A mandate of masks feels isolating,” said Emily Lewis, parent of an incoming sixth grader. “It’s hard to make new friends when half of their face is covered.”
Nicole Maxson, an ER nurse, said that she has not had a single pediatric COVID-19 patient and she supported the district’s decision.
However, many other speakers were disappointed with the district’s decision not to mandate masks.
Chris Zirker showed up wearing green hospital scrubs and said that he has treated scores of COVID patients over the past year.
“You have the authority to mandate masks, do it,” he said. “I hope that the next place I see you is not at my place of work.”
A recurring theme of speakers who wanted a mask mandate was frustration that the district was not acting on Tri-County’s advice because it was just a recommendation and not an actual order.
“It is apparent to everyone you’re passing the buck,” Jennifer Boynton said. “We’re going to get more days of in-person learning by wearing masks.”
Jordana Hoppe, a pediatric pulmonologist, said that she would not tell Superintendent Smith how to educate students. “So why are you not listening to physicians now?” she asked.
Cherry Creek spokesperson Abbe Smith said that the district did not have any further comment on its decision regarding masks, and pointed to the guidance released last week and the superintendent’s comments at the meeting for its stance.
At the meeting, Superintendent Smith declined to speak to the Sentinel directly. During his public comment period, he said the district is closely following guidelines from health experts.
“As we begin the school year this year, there is no public health order regarding the requirement of masks,” he said. “We continue to collaborate with our health experts at Tri-County and we will continue to implement their guidance.”