Public schools opt to protect students, ignore politics


In a six-page public health order issued by Tri-County Public Health (TCHD) on August 18 and signed by its executive director, Dr. John Douglas, the wearing of facial coverings in indoor spaces was ordered in all schools and child care settings for children ages two through 11, along with their adult caregivers and teachers, effective August 23, regardless of vaccination status, as a result of “new evidence on the Delta variant” of the COVID-19 virus.

After a lengthy meeting on August 19 where a number of residents expressed their less-than-positive views on the TCHD order, Douglas County’s three commissioners, Lora Thomas, George Teal, and Abe Laydon, all Republicans, voted unanimously to opt out of the TCHD order requiring masks for all children 2 through 11 in school or day care. Commissioner George Teal, putting a fine point on the board of county commissioners’ reasoning, explained, “By opting out of this public health order, we will be securing the blessings of liberty.” Although widely viewed as a Republican stronghold, actual voter registration in Douglas County is 36 percent Republican, 20 percent Democratic, and like many places in Colorado, 43 percent unaffiliated. 

Douglas County Public Schools, which had previously made face coverings optional for all its students, had upgraded its rules on August 17 to require all children in grades six and below to wear masks, along with the adults who are teaching them and supporting them. On August 20, one day after the Board of County Commissioners opted out of the TCHD public health order, Corey Wise, Douglas County Public Schools superintendent, sent a letter to all district parents that said, in part, “As previously communicated, effective Monday, August, 23, the Douglas County School District will begin to require all students in preschool through sixth grade to wear face coverings in indoor school settings,” explaining that “TCHD and other medical experts emphasize that mask-wearing is an important and effective prevention strategy to keep students and staff safe.”

Cherry Creek School District and Littleton Public Schools are fully complying with TCHD’s public health order, requiring all adults and students in preschool through sixth grade to wear face coverings in indoor settings. In Denver Public Schools, all students and adults are required to wear masks while indoors, regardless of age.

On August 23, as children returned to their classes, parents in Castle Rock took to the street to protest the mask order, holding signs that said things like, “Let them breathe,” “My child my choice,” and “Stop abusing children and power.” That drew other parents who supported the Douglas County School District and TCHD.