COLORADO SPRINGS — News 5 is taking a closer look into the back-to-school plans for Falcon School District 49 after a letter meant just for staff became public.
In the letter, the district stated recommendations and requirements from the El Paso County Public Health Department will not be followed for the upcoming school year.
"I think the school should not be put in the position to be policing private individual's choices. I think it is up to the parent to decide for their own child," said Kathleen Zoll, Falcon School District 49 grandparent.
Zoll is in support of the district's COVID-19 protocols, especially after the pandemic took a huge toll on her grandchildren.
"It was so bad that we pulled the grandson that we're raising and my daughter pulled her daughter from District 49 because of the masks policies last year. We chose to do online school so they wouldn't have to wear the masks all day," said Zoll. "I have no problems with other parents choosing to send their kids in masks, but I'm so happy it's back in the choice of parents where it should be. I'm thrilled it's back to normal because the kids need the socialization, the freedom to be there and see their teachers and friend's faces, and breath fresh air."
The letter states that the district won't act as enforcement agents for public health recommendations or requirements, and if someone is tested for COVID-19 or another virus, results won't have to be reported. Results also won't be asked for or given to the county health department either.
It then goes on to state that if the department requests participation in contract tracing, the district will decline.
"I think there is a to a certain extent a reasonable explanation that you'll have communications that are just for the organization but considering the content of that letter includes things that seem to be expressly against the law and they are directing personnel to engage in activities that violate the law. As a teacher or staff member that is beholden to what the district is telling me to do, what kind of position does that put the teachers in," said Lindsey.
She is among many parents concerned over the contents of the internal letter.
"As a family in this district, knowing the line on we aren't going to contact trace, we aren't going to going to report COVID-19 cases we're made aware of, we don't even want to know. It's almost as if they want to erase COVID, it's almost as if they want to ignore it, pretend like it doesn't exist, and absolve themselves of any responsibility," said Lindsey.
Lindsey also questions the legality of the letter.
"On August 3, the El Paso County Public Health Department issued new guidelines for schools and childcare centers. They do explicitly state these aren't requirements, they are guidelines. However, they do cite Colorado State Statue Section 25-1-122 CRS and Board of Health Rule 6 CCR1009-1 which mandates COVID as a reportable condition and positive COVID-19 cases as well as suspective and confirmed outbreaks must be reported to the public health department by schools and child cares," said Lindsey. "That letter seems to contradict those requirements."
District 49 along with Superintendent Peter Hilts declined an on-camera interview, but in a statement said the following:
Although we continue working with our county partners, we will not follow all their recommendations or fulfill all their risks. We are closely reviewing current data and recommendations, which allows us to balance our responsibility for school health with the county’s responsibility for public health, while still respecting parents’ responsibility for family health.
"I've always felt like I could trust officials to do what is right and follow the law, but it would seem that the contents of that letter contradict what is required of them. The justification in that letter was we aren't going to do it because we don't have to and it seems maybe you have to, at least some of those things," said Lindsey.
"My mother used to always say your freedom ends where mine begins. Your freedoms are to choose what you want for your child, and my freedom is to choose what I want for my child. Your choice can't conflict with my freedom, and you have to make the decision for yourself," said Zoll.
News 5 reached out to the public health department regarding the legality of the guidance, and they are still reviewing the letter with their school guidance team. Some parents plan on attending the school board next Thursday to discuss their concerns over the COVID-19 protocols. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the Creekside Success Center's Peakview Hall, 3850 Pony Tracks Drive, Colorado Springs, CO.