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Back-to-school: What's going on with masks from district to district and more

360 In-Depth on masks: Parents, teachers and students weigh in on how the school year is going so far.
Posted: 10:13 PM, Aug 23, 2021
Updated: 2021-10-24 07:46:40-04
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DENVER — As much as things do look different this year, most would agree: It’s certainly better than last year.

“This is very joyous,” said Neelah Ali, a biology teacher at South High School in Denver.

360: Return of In-Person Learning

“The most important thing for us is to have kids on campus,” said Chris Fiedler, superintendent of Brighton 27J schools.

“Although we're wearing a mask, we're getting back to what we do best,” said Dr. Alex Marrero, superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

Now that DPS, Colorado’s largest school district, is back in session, let’s go 360 on how things are going so far, starting with a high school principal who is brimming with optimism to start the year.

“A lot of apprehension over the summer,” said Antonio Esquibel, principal at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver. “It’s been a little daunting, but with a lot of excitement, right? A lot of promise, a lot of potential with what we think could happen this school year.”

Esquibel was principal at Lincoln High years ago, took a leadership position with DPS, then came back to be the principal again. He says the focus to start this year is on reacclimating students to in-person learning.

“We actually have three social workers assigned to work with us here at Lincoln,” Esquibel said. “Doing some analysis of where students are at in terms of their social and emotional health.”

360: What teachers have to say

Teachers like Emily Stark say returning in-person, even in masks to start, is going to be a game-changer, especially in labs.

“Chemistry is definitely a hands-on, in-person class to have,” Stark said. “That’s where a lot of the science comes out and we get to be scientists.”

“For some of them, COVID is really hard,” Ali said. “Do they want to share if they’re not vaccinated and why they’re not vaccinated? Should they? Do they have to?”

Ali teaches biology and says everything old is new again.

“Especially for our 10th graders,” she said. “They were freshman last year, some of them have never been in the building.”

Students will be navigating a big building and trying to find their place all while still wearing masks.

“I think it’s just going to be a journey because a lot of them didn’t wear masks all summer,” Ali said. “And so, for us to say 'You have to put a mask on indoors' is hard.”

It's perhaps no harder than in a district like Brighton 27J.

“We opened with strongly recommending masks for students and adults,” Fiedler said.

Fiedler says everything was off to a relatively smooth, quiet start.

“Because we were allowing parents’ choice,” he said.

Then came Tri-County Health’s new public health order last week, and the phone’s started ringing.

“It’s been very, very loud,” Fiedler said. “The parents who are most bothered at the moment [are upset] about losing that choice.”

“One entity says one thing, another entity says another thing,” said Dan Marsh, whose kids are in Douglas County schools. “We’ve got Tri-County saying we’re going to do something else. And on top of that, we had a parent survey that said they don’t want masks.”

That’s probably the biggest frustration right now for parents.

“What I call a big mess,” Marsh said. “What’s the right thing to do? What’s the wrong thing to do? What are parents supposed to do? How do you keep your kids safe? What’s non-political, apolitical?”

Share your 360 opinion

Marsh said he tries to be pragmatic.

“My wife’s a former teacher, and she’s worried about our kids missing out on important parts of their lives and their years of learning,” Marsh said. “I don’t think there is one right decision, and that’s the hardest thing. People think there is, and I don’t think there is. I think there’s only a choice.”

“I hope things work out for these children,” said grandmother Tina Perkins, whose granddaughter started at Garden Place Academy in Denver on Monday. “It’s very important for the kids to be in school getting an education.”

“[My grandkids] are loving the normalcy of the whole situation,” said Sara Althouse, whose grandchildren attend school in Douglas County. “My youngest daughter has three children in the system and they suffered so much last year. They suffered emotionally, they suffered socially, they suffered academically.”

“We’ll follow the rules as much as we can so we can stay like this,” Fiedler said. “We have to keep kids in school.”

“The excitement overrides any of the obstacles,” Marrero said. “I’m incredibly confident in what we have in store, because it is as close as what we can call normal, meaning that we're in-person.”

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