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Some parents pulling their children out of D49 over new COVID-19 reporting policy

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Posted at 7:25 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 11:56:41-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — UPDATE: On August 20, The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) updated their school guidance on August 20 to clarify that under state statute, single cases are required to be reported to Public Health. El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) has updated the local school guidance to align with CDPHE.

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Some parents in Falcon School District 49 are raising concerns over the lack of transparency with COVID-19.

In a letter sent to families and educators, Superintendent Peter Hilts re-affirmed that the district won't be reporting positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students or contact tracing.

According to Hilts, it is not the school's responsibility to take on the reporting responsibility of a testing lab or medical provider.

"The language in the letter basically tells me that they are going to stay the course no matter what. If they get one hundred cases in one school, they aren't going to tell anyone, they are going to keep the doors open," said Jared Williams.

It's only been a few weeks into school, and his family has had to make a tough decision.

"We've got five school-aged children in this district, and every single one is different. We pulled the two most at risk, the other three are currently still enrolled, and we're talking now about if something doesn't change, do we need to pull everyone," said Williams.

One of his sons has spina bifida along with scoliosis while the other one has asthma.

"With my one son he was actually out last week and we went out to get him COVID tested because he had the Delta symptoms. He was negative and what it turned out to be with his asthma and allergies was all of the smoke. If it was bothering him that bad, what happens if COVID was added on top of that," said Williams.

Williams says he doesn't have a problem with the district not requiring face coverings.

"The problem we had is with reporting because that takes away our right as parents to make informed decisions," said Williams.

Another parent upset over the letter is Haley Revels who just moved to Colorado Springs.

"We moved to this area in May. Both a house in District 49 for District 49 assuming that COVID policies would be similar to the previous year. Aside from the mask mandate which I know some people don't like and I can get behind that. That is OK. When I saw the email that came out yesterday, I was super caught off guard," said Revels.

She says the back-to-school guidance made her uncomfortable as a parent.

"We moved here from Florida where COVID-19 is a lot more prevalent, there are a lot fewer restrictions. Not a big deal, that was our choice for the state we were in and we kept her home last year. Maybe I shouldn't have assumed the district would do better or the normal guidelines by the state and federal government to notify people, and doing the quarantining," said Revels.

She's considering pulling her daughter out of the district over the new COVID-19 reporting policy.

"Going back to a similar platform that we did last year, just because I don't feel like that is the right thing to do," said Revels. "A family is not required to tell the school if their child is positive and I don't like that. What if a family chooses to do the right thing, which I feel most families will, but what if there is a family that decides not to do the right thing and my child is exposed," said Revels.

Others in the district supporting the district's stance on the issue, and the ability to chose.

"I feel really good about it, I think it's giving decision-making back to the parents. Exercising our freedom of choice," said Kathleen Zoll, District 49 grandparent. "They don't report flu cases, they don't report other diseases, there is no tracking of anything else so why do we need to continue reporting COVID-19 cases. It's been shown that children have very low transmission rates and any serious cases are minuet"

Zoll doesn't mind that the district is not reporting positive COVID-19 cases.

"It doesn't matter to me. I personally know of a child from my grandson's class that does have COVID, and it doesn't bother me in the least. It's a mild case and he's being kept home. I don't need to know everyone's personal stuff, I don't need to know when people have the flu. To me, it's sort of an invasion of privacy," said Zoll.

She doesn't want to live in fear of if her grandson will get sick.

"You can't live in fear, you have to go on about your life. If we are teaching kids to fear all of the time, they are going to be afraid of other people," said Zoll.

News 5 reached out to Governor Polis' office regarding the statement.

“Colorado has made tremendous strides in decreasing transmission and deaths from COVID-19, including reaching a 72% vaccination rate among eligible Coloradans statewide.

However, because many students have yet to be vaccinated and students under 12 are not yet eligible, we must continue to remain vigilant, take important mitigation steps that can reduce transmission of COVID-19, and address outbreaks in a safe and thoughtful manner.

The state’s guidance strongly recommends local leaders and school leaders take a layered approach to prevention that includes mask-wearing for unvaccinated individuals. The recommendation of mask-wearing and a layered approach is geared towards ensuring uninterrupted in-person learning.

School districts that do not implement mitigation strategies run the risks of in-person learning lost due to outbreaks, and that would be unfortunate given all our kids have lost already. At this stage of the pandemic with communities having greatly varied case rates and vaccination rates, local leaders are empowered to make the best decisions for their communities.“
Conor Cahill, Press Secretary

The state health department also received a copy of the letter. They replied with the following updated guidance:

Per 6 CCR 1009-1 [sos.state.co.us], schools and child care facilities are also required to report single cases of which they become aware to public health, even if testing was performed elsewhere. Schools are able to disclose this information to public health without prior written consent under FERPA’s health or safety emergency exception because a person with COVID-19 represents a potential threat to the health and safety of others at the school. This is true even if there is not an outbreak.

Public health then interviews the people who have COVID-19 and conducts contact tracing to determine who might be close contacts of the case and makes recommendations about isolation and quarantine.

Schools and child care providers are required to report all outbreaks to their local public health agency or CDPHE within four hours per 6 CCR 1009-1.

Schools and child care providers must report both suspected and confirmed outbreaks.
State Health Department

Health officials say the statutory sanction for failure to comply with a public health statute, rule, or order is a misdemeanor and authorizes fines and jail time. They are working with the El Paso County Health Department to make sure school reporting requirements are clear.