PUEBLO — Some parents and students in Pueblo School District 70 have had enough with the current mask mandate in schools.
During Tuesday's school board meeting, they gathered outside to protest and voice their opinion against the mandate. But it was a tense start as only 35 people were allowed in the room due to capacity restrictions.
"I didn't come here to speak but once they were so rude and tried to block the parents from speaking, that's when I felt like I had to say something," said Lexie Mater, Pueblo School District 70 parent.
She has a child at South Mesa Elementary School and initially came to support another parent. After a confrontation with school officials, she decided to share her opinion on the mask mandate.
"Everybody needs to make their own choice and that's the freedom that we have. Recommendations are great, appreciated and they come from educated people but they aren't the law," said Mater. "We need to be able to make our own free decisions, and most people will make the best decision for themself and their family."
Mater believes the choice needs to be up to the families.
"If people want to wear masks and get vaccinated, awesome. If they don't want to wear a mask and get vaccinated, awesome. That's what makes America great, we have the choice but it seems like now they are trying to strip away rights like that," said Mater.
"I think there is interference with people's individual rights," said Sharon Scutti, Pueblo School District 70 grandparent.
She has grandchildren in District 70 and came out to support other parents.
"There is just one narrative coming down from the system and they're not allowing other thoughts or narratives to be spoken. It needs to be changed, both sides need to be heard in a very common sense and civil way," said Scutti.
She says masks are having a huge impact on children and making it difficult for them.
"Some are breaking out with really bad skin problems, others have really bad asthma and scorned," said Scutti.
In a statement, the district said:
"We continue to take a proactive approach with COVID safety measures for all our staff and students for the remainder of the school year. The latest State Health Order issued on May 2 defines the requirements for facial coverings - and includes all individuals Pre-12 grade, including extra-curricular activities."
During the meeting, Public Health Director Randy Evetts expressed the continued need for safety measures.
"For a significant amount of time, we were doing well. Our numbers were in the bottom third or fourth in the nation in terms of our incidence rate. In the recent month, we really entered into our fourth wave, and Colorado is one of the highest incidence rates in the country," said Evetts.
He says the virus is spreading more quickly than they would like to see, but transmission control rates have dropped to 51 percent.
"Transmission control is a measure of masking and the mobility that people have. All of those things combined, we've seen it drop significantly," said Evetts. "In the state, the seven-day positivity is about six percent but in the last few days we've been seeing a plateau in cases and hospitalizations."
Currently, Evetts says the case rate is 335 per 100,000 in the last seven days.
"That means 560 cases have been identified in the last seven days. We know there are many cases that we are not aware of in our community. Our positivity is about 5.4 percent and hospitalizations have been pretty high, in the low 30s and high 40s for the last week. Most of the people in the hospital are above 50 who've chosen to not get the vaccine, we have had four or five deaths in the last week but we are waiting for the state to confirm they are COVID deaths," said Evetts.
He says there is an increase in outbreaks among businesses and schools, but they're trying to combat it with the vaccine. As more people get vaccinated, Evetts hopes case numbers decrease.
While parents say they understand the precautions, they just want to be heard when it comes to the safety of their children.
"I think we shouldn't live in fear of something, we shouldn't live as victims to anything," said Mater.
Parents say they'll be at the next board meeting to continue protesting the mask mandate.