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Adams County commissioners vote to opt out of Tri-County school mask requirement

Commissioners say they support masks in schools, displeased that TCHD allowed counties to opt out
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Posted at 1:21 PM, Aug 24, 2021

DENVER – The Adams County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday morning to opt out of the Tri-County Health Department’s public health order requiring masks in schools and child care settings for kids ages 2-11.

The motion to opt out was made by Chairperson Eva Henry, who said she supported masking in schools but called the health department’s order flawed because it allowed counties to opt out of it. The commissioners said their decision gives each school district the ability to continue to follow their current protocols or to change them.

All five members of the board of commissioners are Democrats who said they favored masking in school, but some said they felt they didn’t have the authority to make health-related decisions and others felt the TCHD should not have allowed the opt-out clause.

Henry and Commissioners Chaz Tedesco and Lynn Baca voted in favor of opting out of the health department order, while Commissioners Emma Pinter and Steve O’Dorisio voted against the measure.

Adams County commissioners vote to opt out of TCHD mask order

“Commissioners up here, like Commissioner Pinter pointed out, are not medical professionals like the ones at the board of health,” Henry said just before the vote. “So, if this is important enough to the board of health, then they need to do a directive and not an opt out.”

Douglas County commissioners also opted out of the mask requirements in a vote last week, but the Douglas County School District is still requiring them for kids in preschool through 6th grade.

Adams County Commissioner Lynn Baca echoed Henry’s sentiments and said the opt-out clause made the health department’s measure flawed. She also suggested leaving the health department and having Adams County form its own later this fall.

“I do favor the mask mandate. I believe the mask mandate may not go far enough. And I also believe that we are at the beginning, at the bottom, of a mountain of COVID, who is still the enemy,” she said. “Not each other. Not the person sitting next to you. Not eastern versus western Adams County. Not Republican versus Democrat. Not your freedom of choice versus my nieces and nephews. So, I’m going to vote in favor today of the opt out option for Adams County, with the long term that we send the message to Tri-County health that the opt out no longer works for us, and to correct that.”

Dozens of people showed up to protest masks ahead of the meeting, and many of them continued to press against mask requirements during public comment that came after the commissioners voted to opt out of the TCHD order.

Pinter, who voted against opting out, said since the commissioners appoint members to the TCHD board, she believes the commissioners should support the board’s decision.

“When we ask them to make a recommendation to us, they make that recommendation. It is our job to take the recommendation of those members of the board of health — who quite frankly have put their lives on the line, who have feared for their safety for the past year and a half —and we need to make sure that we have the backs of the people we appointed to the board of heath,” she said. “I would implore my colleagues to take our authority, which we have delegated to Tri-County Health, and take the recommendations seriously, and follow this order, which is designed to protect our children.”

The largest districts in the county currently require masks in schools, and Denver7 has reached out to the districts and TCHD again following the commissioners’ vote to see if any protocols will change.

In a letter to parents, teachers and staff, Adams 12 Five Star Schools officials said there would no change to the district's mask guidance for students and staff following Tuesday's vote.

The decision, officials said, was based on "Our belief that current mask guidance provides the best opportunity to continue full-time, in-person learning for as many students as possible" as the number of positive cases continues to rise across the state.

Mapleton Public Schools is another district that has mask requirements in place for Pre-K through 6th grade. Adams 14 is in its “yellow zone,” during which masks are required. The district confirmed Tuesday it was sticking with the mask requirement.

Aurora Public Schools officials, which on Aug. 13 announced mandatory masks for all students in child development centers, elementary and K/P-8 schools, said Tuesday they are not planning to make changes based on the vote by the Adams County commissioners.

Masks are also required indoors at Westminster Public Schools for all students, staff and teachers. Brighton 27J Schools are also requiring masks for all students ages 2 to 11 and staff and staff who work and interact with them.

Monica Johnson, the superintendent of Strasburg 31J Schools, said in an email Tuesday the school board would be holding a special meeting Wednesday regarding masks. On Monday, Johnson said 34% of the district’s 560 Pre-K through 5th grade students were absent, which she attributed to the mask mandate.

“I’m pretty confident that they will opt out of the mandate and go back to parent choice with encouragement of mask wearing but not mandate to wear them,” Johnson said.

Tri-County Health Department officials said late Tuesday afternoon that while they are disappointed with the decision from the Adams County Board of Commissioners, "we are sympathetic to the pressures that the Commissioners have because of the opt out policy that the TCHD Board of Health implemented last year and pleased that many of them acknowledged the importance of masking as a critical prevention measure as we face rising rates due to the Delta variant as school is restarting."

You can read the rest of their statement below:

The value of widespread use of masks to prevent infection, particularly among unvaccinated children, is threefold: to reduce the chance of their becoming ill, to reduce spread of infection to family members who might not be fully protected by vaccines, and to maintain as high a level of in-person learning as possible, both to enhance education as well as mental health. We are already seeing school outbreaks across our counties, including schools in Adams County, resulting in kids having to stay home due to classroom outbreaks. Widespread use of masking is one of the most effective strategies schools can promote to reduce the chance of outbreaks, and although Adams County has opted out of this order, we continue to strongly encourage schools to use masking as an effective disease mitigation strategy.

We will continue to work closely with Adams and Arapahoe Counties to determine how best to deliver public health services to their residents should Douglas County continue down the path of forming its own public health department.

The Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners told Denver7 via email they are meeting on Aug. 30 to discuss and vote on opting out of the Tri-County Health Department school mask mandate.

"It’s important for the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners to consider all sides of this complex issue to help ensure the health and safety of all County residents," the statement read. "As previously announced, the Board will hold a virtual study session about this issue on Monday, Aug. 30, after which we will determine what action to take at our Aug. 31 business meeting. Until then, we are continuing to gather feedback from our residents, who can submit their opinions through Aug. 28 by using this form."