BVSD shares COVID-19 guidance, requires masks based on public health order

Boulder Valley school board members on Tuesday heard more details about how schools will implement a mask mandate and other coronavirus mitigation requirements in the fall, with a goal of reducing in-person school disruptions.

“Our position has been and will be that we want to do everything we can to make sure all students are able to come to school five days a week, with hopefully no or limited interruptions,” said Boulder Valley Superintendent Rob Anderson.

The Boulder County Board of Health on Monday unanimously approved mandating masks for all students and staff members in all schools or at child care facilities, regardless of their vaccination status. The order, which went into effect Tuesday, applies to both private and public schools.

Health officials said higher case numbers for those 19 and under, driven by the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, contributed to the decision. Students under 12 also aren’t yet eligible for coronavirus vaccines. In Boulder County, 39,500 school-age children are either ineligible for the vaccine or unvaccinated, according to the health department.

Public health officials from Broomfield and Boulder counties also shared COVID-19 case data and answered questions about the new requirements at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Along with a mask mandate, Boulder County’s new order sets rules for quarantines and contact tracing.

“The delta variant has changed the game,” said Deb Federspiel, deputy director at Broomfield Public Health. “It’s really reinforced the need that we have to layer on additional mitigations beside vaccinations.”

With masks in place, quarantine rules will be loosened, reducing school disruptions, health officials said. Students and teachers will not need to quarantine after a “routine” classroom exposure, as long as they were masked. Students and staff members who are vaccinated and aren’t symptomatic also are exempt from quarantines.

If students stay home because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine, Boulder Valley officials said, classroom monitors will support the students by helping them connect with teachers and access lessons.

Boulder County’s mask order provides exceptions for students who can’t play instruments while wearing masks, for hearing-impaired students and for those who are alone in a closed room. Masks also aren’t required outdoors, but are required for indoor sports and extracurricular activities.

Families whose students “cannot medically tolerate a face covering” can request an exemption through an existing school district waiver process, district officials said. Waivers were granted last school year, generally to students who qualified for special education services or learning accommodations, officials said. Those students won’t need to reapply.

Families can choose to enroll in the district’s online schools, Link or Boulder Universal, through Aug. 31, officials said.

Parents on both sides of the mask issue have lobbied the school district over the last few weeks. A group called Stand Up Boulder protested mask mandates before Monday’s Boulder County Public Health board meeting and before the Boulder Valley school board meeting. Parents opposed to masks also are planning to rally today at the St. Vrain Valley school board meeting.

People rally in protest of a mask mandate Tuesday outside the Boulder Valley Education Center before the school board meeting. The Boulder County Board of Health on Monday unanimously approved mandating masks for all students and staff members, regardless of vaccination status.(Amy Bounds/Staff Writer)

At Tuesday’s Boulder Valley meeting, parents spoke on both sides of the issue. Some advocated for masks and asked for a vaccine mandate, while others said masks should be a parent’s choice.

Gretchen Maclachlan, who protested before the meeting, said her son was forced to quit high school basketball last school year because he couldn’t physically tolerate wearing a mask at games and was denied an exemption.

“They’ve been suffocating our children for well over a year,” she said. “Our kids can’t breathe in these masks.”

Speaker Elizabeth Fashing said children who can’t be vaccinated yet are the pandemic’s new vulnerable population, adding she supports universal masking and a vaccine mandate.

“The best way to protect them is to ensure all those around them are vaccinated,” she said.

Boulder and St. Vrain Valley are among several Denver metro school districts with universal mask mandates, though districts are taking a variety of approaches for the fall. Denver Public Schools is requiring masks for all students and staff members, while Jefferson County Public Schools made masks mandatory only for those 11 and younger. In the Adams 12 School District staff members are required to wear masks, but masks are optional for all students.

The University of Colorado Boulder and Front Range Community College also will require masks in indoor public spaces starting this week, both institutions announced Tuesday.

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