The mask debate preceded the last school board meeting

A screenshot from the school board meeting on Wednesday showed Travis Ward, a parent, speaking out against the school district’s decision to require masks for the rest of the school year.

Tensions over the Eagle County Schools mask mandate reached a climax at the school board meeting Wednesday.

With just a few days left in the school year, nearly 40 parents and community members attended the meeting and nearly 20 expressed their opinions, both personally and via email, about the proceedings. implementation of a mask mandate in schools.

“We appreciate your comments, I respect your courage and your love to come here and tell us what you think and how you feel about your children and see all these people pushing for your students and students ’rights,” said Kate Cocchiarella, president of the Eagle County Board of Education. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen posters protesting and it warms my heart.”

Eagle County lifted public health bans on COVID-19 May 19, more than a week earlier than originally planned. The decision was made in COVID-19 cases of a steady decline and increase in vaccination-with more than 62% of the local population receiving even one dose of the vaccine. It removes all local requirements for mask use, restrictions and capacity restrictions.

The decision follows an announcement by Governor Jared Polis, who said fully vaccinated Coloradans will no longer be required by the state to wear a mask in most public settings. State regulations regarding mask requirements for public indoor use, including schools, remain in place.

Citing the lack of vaccination authorization for children under 12 years of age as well as a CDC explanation proposing to still wear masks in schools, Eagle County Schools kept this policy. having to wear a mask indoors while attending school.

In an email, Dan Dougherty, the chief communications officer for the district, explained that the mask mandate remains in place for the remaining few days of the school year for the health and safety of others, “especially our 5,200 undetected students, at risk.”

This decision prompted a group of parents and community members to urge the school district to cancel the Wednesday meeting requirement.

“Schools should not manage compliance but choice,” said Krista Keizer, EagleVail resident and parent. “The administration and elected officials must stand up to the Colorado governor, the health department and Eagle County Health officials to fight for the students.”

Apply the mask at school

Several parents at Wednesday’s board meeting expressed their concerns, and in some cases outraged, how the district and schools enforced the wearing of masks in schools and how it was done. , schools violate students ’rights.

In particular, the discussion centered on a freshman at Eagle Valley High School whose refusal to wear a mask to school last week resulted in his expulsion from school. This student claims to have been ridiculed and harassed by school administrators, staff and teachers.

At the board meeting, the student’s father, Travis Ward, spoke about it, even playing a recording, in which he said his son was “locked up.”

“He was taken out of school, his rights were violated, he was discriminated against and it went on for about a week and a half to two weeks,” Ward said. “I know it’s about making people comfortable because we have graduations and parties and things, but our side is uncomfortable, my son is uncomfortable.”

According to Doughtery, segregation of students is one of two options provided by the district to students who do not wish to wear a mask. The other is that students can stay home and connect remotely. He noted that Eagle Valley High School now has three unmasked students studying without the masked student and staff population.

“Students without masks are not allowed to mix with other students, so if they try to enter a class, they will be expelled,” Doughtery wrote in his email to the Vail Daily.

Ward called this situation “incarceration,” and admitted that the Eagle Valley school system “rejects children because they don’t wear masks because they want to stand up for their rights, which they have to allow. . “

Many other parents and community members pointed to this incident in their school board statements. One, Jan Rosenthal Townsend, who said he had no children, noticed that he was at the meeting to support this student.

“Any person or student who chooses not to wear should be permitted on the basis of human rights,” Rosenthal Townsend said. “This person was denied his right to study in class, his right to study in his classroom and was placed in isolation and is now being bullied and expelled by various students. It should not be allowed.”

This claim of harassment or bullying for not wearing a mask was made by some of the parents who spoke at the meeting.

“We want to know the details of any incidents where students have been harassed or harassed,” Doughtery wrote in his email. “We never consulted that treatment and we wanted the opportunity to work with families.”

In his statement to the school board, Ward also referred to an incident at a middle school principal where the principal allegedly asked students to wear masks outside, asked if we had been vaccinated and said “ You’re the social distance or I’m away from you, ”Ward also said of the incident.

Doughterty said the district followed up on this claim and found it to be inaccurate. “At Gypsum Creek Middle School, in addition to the outdoor recess, teachers provide an outdoor mask break, meaning that outdoor masks are not necessary if students maintain their social distance,” he said. “It is possible that a staff member would have asked a group of students at any point to increase their distance, but in reality would not have been able to ask a student about their immunization status or threatened to move a students. “

Some parents questioned the rights and authority of schools to enforce the mask policy.

“The pandemic didn’t change the way the country was run, you didn’t have any special power. You didn’t have it in your mind,” said Robert Good, an Eagle resident and parent of two middle school students. .

Add challenges to a challenging year

Many of the parents and community members who spoke at the meeting also expressed a concern that the masks bring additional challenges for students in a difficult year.

“Unfortunately but true, bad policy in this district and across the country is responsible for the mental retardation of our students,” Keizer said.

In addition to expressing concern over students ’mental health, parents questioned the role of masks themselves in preventing the spread of the disease as well as concern over further detrimental health effects.

“Masks aren’t healthy,” said Lori Diversey, an Eagle resident. “Aside from the introductory signs that children don’t get, masks are anti -social device and hinder natural resistance.”

A few more days

Superintendent Phillip Qualman announced that the mask mandate will continue until the end of the school year, June 3, to protect personal graduation and end -of -year celebrations.

Regardless of attendance from those in the meeting, the district will continue the mask mandate at the end of the school year, which ends June 3.

We went into 10 heavy, challenging months to finish this school year wearing a mask. I ended up wearing it like you, but I asked for five more days wearing a mask, ”said Superintendent Phillip Qualman. “Yes, it’s a hassle, but at the end of the day, I’m not willing to risk the death of a student or staff member in the last week of school. I can’t say that in any clear language.”

Qualman also pointed out that the decision was largely driven by the district’s desire to protect graduates at the end of the year and year -end celebrations, and it is the upheld decision of all Eagle County schools – public, private and parochial.

Going into next year, Cocchiarella said the district’s goal is to have no mask requirements, be able to return to the five-day schedule a week and “get back to normal.” But until then, he asked for the year to end peacefully, and with masks.

“We need to continue to be compassionate, kind and understanding, even for those who don’t believe in us, only at the end of the year,” Cocchiarella said. “June 3 brings us to the end of this year, a very, very difficult year that will be challenging, not just for students, not just for families, but for the entire community, across the country and in all over the world. We really had luck and speed here in Eagle County and I’m so thankful that. “

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