Steamboat schools to reconsider mask mandate |

Steamboat schools to reconsider mask mandate

The board will separately consider both masks at extra curricular activities and after-school events, as well as during the school day

The Steamboat Springs School Board will hold a special meeting Thursday, Feb. 10, to consider removing the district’s mask mandate at after-school events and extracurriculars in favor of a masks-optional policy.

The board will separately consider changing the district’s masking policy during the school day and discuss how changes would be implemented if the board opts to make masks optional for students in class.

The board discussed the issue during Monday’s regular board meeting, where a majority of board members signaled they favored loosening masking requirements, especially at after-school events where attendance is optional.

“Up to this point, I think the benefits of wearing masks outweigh the detrimental effects, but I don’t think that they’re completely without detrimental effects,” said Board President Katy Lee.

Since the beginning of the school year, district officials have said their No. 1 goal was to ensure that students remained in school and wearing masks was one of the tools to achieve that. Superintendent Brad Meeks said just one class at Strawberry Park Elementary had to move to remote learning for a few days with the rest of the district’s buildings staying open since August.

Part of the rationale behind wearing masks is the quarantine guidelines are less stringent with them. If someone who gets exposed to COVID-19 was wearing a mask when the exposure happened, that person is generally not required to isolate.

Being vaccinated would also get a student out of needing to quarantine if exposed, which is a factor the board didn’t have to consider last fall.

About 73% of students at Steamboat Springs High School are vaccinated, with Steamboat Springs Middle School at about 68%, according to Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith.

The district’s elementary schools have lower vaccination rates among students eligible for the vaccine, but these students have also been eligible to get the shots for much less time. Meeks said more than 90% of district staff has been vaccinated.

“A very high percentage of our staff has been vaccinated,” Meeks said, adding that he hasn’t asked staff whether they have received a booster or not.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment both still recommend universal masking in schools, whether someone is vaccinated or not. Still, several states and other districts in Colorado, such as Eagle County Schools, have dropped masking mandates.

“Science evolves and the situation has evolved, and we’re seeing many other school districts that are moving to a mask-encouraged model,” said board member Kelly Latterman. “I’m comfortable doing that.”

Latterman noted that if the district did move to a mask encouraged model that teachers not be on the hook for policing whether a student is supposed to wear a mask or not. She also said other boards have opted for a tiered model, removing mandates at different times for different grade levels.

Jessica Reagon, a sixth grade teacher and president of the Steamboat Springs Education Association, said when Meeks approached staff about the change last week they were not prepared for it, having assumed the district would keep a mask mandate through the end of the school year.

For teachers, she said, the main concern has been missing school and an increase in quarantines. Still, there are other concerns, including how students might treat each other if they don’t all have to wear a mask.

“Comments that we hear in the community come through those children as well about why you’re wearing a mask, and I don’t have to, and what my parents believe,” Reagon said. “It can be harsh management sometimes.”

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