Steamboat School Board to vote on masking policy at special meeting Thursday
The Steamboat Springs School Board will vote in a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday on whether students in the district will be required to wear masks when they return to school next week.
The district appeared poised to start the school year with an optional masking policy, after board members signaled they favored that decision in a meeting last week. But the board did not vote on the matter, instead giving guidance to Superintendent Brad Meeks.
In that meeting almost everyone in public comment spoke against mandating masks, but district officials said the correspondence they had been receiving was relatively even, with a similar number of people favoring a mask requirement as those who didn’t.
Since that meeting, Meeks said he has continued to get correspondence with much of it being from parents asking the district to require masks indoors. Meeks said this includes local medical professionals who have children in the district’s schools.
Cases of COVID-19 are also rising locally — 66 in the past week and the highest positivity rate since February — meaning the landscape of the virus has heightened locally since last week’s discussion.
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“We’ve been monitoring what’s happening with infection rates across the state, and we’re seeing quite a few school districts in the Front Range and obviously our neighbors in Eagle (County) changing their mind about masking,” Meeks said.
“We just feel that there is enough that has changed since last week that it warrants another conversation in the board before we open school on Monday,” Meeks added.
The priority, as the board reiterated last week, is to keep students in school, Meeks said. He said they want to ensure they limit quarantining students, and masked students have less situations where they would be required to quarantine.
Schools across Colorado have been altering their return plans as the first day of school approaches, many reversing an earlier optional masking policy to one that favors masking as the delta variant has hospitalization rates in Colorado at double what they were this time last year.
Sheriff’s deputies were stationed Monday at schools in Eagle County after a last-minute decision by the local public health department to require masks in schools for students from prekindergarten to eighth grade.
The Hayden and South Routt school districts have each opted for an optional masking policy to start the year, but officials from each said they would add masking requirements back if required to do so by a public health order.
Moffat County schools and the Garfield School District have an optional masking policy in place. In the Telluride School District, students in seventh to 12th grade have their choice of wearing a mask or not, where the rest of the district’s younger students will be required to wear masks.
Summit County schools and the Roaring Fork School District will both require masks for students and teachers while in school.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all students and staff in schools across the country wear masks as they return to the classroom, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has stopped short of similar sweeping guidance.
Instead the decision about COVID-19 protocols was left up to local school districts, with state public health officials recommending a layered approach that incorporates multiple control measures.
Students are required to wear masks on school buses regardless of vaccination in accordance with a federal order requiring masks on public transportation.
The Hayden School District won’t require masks for anyone in the building, regardless of vaccination status, instead relying on parents and staff to decide on masks for themselves and their children.
The same policy will apply to visitors in the school this year, with masks strongly encouraged for unvaccinated individuals but not required.
“Our students, employees, families and community members have enjoyed a summer that felt much more normal,” wrote Superintendent Christy Sinner in a letter to parents outlining this year’s protocols. “We look forward to providing that same feeling of normalcy in our schools to the greatest extent possible.”
The district will still take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus while at school. Social distancing will be encouraged and practiced when possible, families are encouraged to keep kids who are showing any symptoms of COVID-19 home, and there will be a variety of overlapping protocols like hand washing, disinfecting and improved ventilation.
“These plans are consistent with the plans of many areas and rural school districts,” Sinner said. “It’s important to remember that plans could change.”
The South Routt School District won’t require masks for anyone in the building either, but recommends all unvaccinated individuals in school still wear a mask.
“We’re going to continue to be highly informed by local public health, and since there are no mandates requiring masks, the district is not going to require masks,” Soroco Superintendent Rim Watson said. “I highly support all getting vaccinated that are eligible.”
Watson said the district would follow any local, state or federal mask mandate if one were introduced. The district will also employ the layered approach recommended by state health officials with various disinfecting and deep cleaning practices and enhanced ventilation.
The district will not seek to learn or share any student’s vaccination status and will not require anyone to be tested for the virus. Masks will be available throughout the district for anyone who wishes to wear a mask, whether vaccinated or not.
“It is just a pure option we want people to honor,” Watson said. “I would like all who are not vaccinated to self-select to wear a mask and not have to be mandated to do so.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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