Denver Public Schools still deciding about masks ahead of coming school year

With state guidance now in hand, Denver Public School officials are considering whether to require students to wear masks in the upcoming year and will make a decision before school starts on Aug. 23.

In-person classes are the best option for students, the state teacher’s union said Wednesday. While individual districts and schools will have the autonomy to decide whether to require masks or vaccinations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggested Tuesday that anyone 2 years old and up who is unvaccinated wear a mask.

The agency — which DPS said didn’t provide notice that the recommendations were coming — also suggests students and staff don’t have to quarantine after “routine” classroom exposures.

DPS required masks last year, and officials are working with public health experts when it comes to deciding on imposing more stringent requirements, spokesman Will Jones said.

“While we anticipate a return to more normal operations, it is possible that some requirements (such as the use of masks) will continue at the start of the school year,” Jones said in an email.

As DPS and other districts across Colorado consider the state health department’s recommendations, they should include teachers and professionals “who are with students all day, every day” in those conversations, according to Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the state’s teachers union, the Colorado Education Association.

“Educators are on the front lines of this and their expertise is critical to any planning that will take place for the 2021-22 school year,” Baca-Oehlert said in a statement.

Rob Gould, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said his organization must work with DPS and the Metro Denver Partnership for Health to keep students, staff and families safe. He encouraged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated so teachers can continue working with students in-person.

“Vaccinations are the key,” Gould said.

Representatives for teachers unions in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties did not immediately return requests for comment on the state’s recommendations.

State health officials aren’t imposing any mask requirements, but suggest local public health agencies and school districts consider a face covering mandate for the unvaccinated. The state’s guidelines largely mirror those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends everyone over two — regardless of vaccination status — should wear masks in schools.

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