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With most school districts in Colorado planning to return to in-person learning in August, many are planning to require masks for both staff and students. But is it realistic to expect children, especially the youngest, to wear a mask for several hours a day in school?
Denver7 is taking a look at multiple perspectives on masks from students, parents, teachers, a camp director and a pediatrician.
Dr. Jessica Cataldi, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at Children’s Hospital Colorado, says for the majority of children, masks are safe to wear.
“We don’t recommend them for children with severe respiratory conditions or severe developmental conditions who can’t communicate well about how they’re feeling or how they’re breathing,” Dr. Cataldi said.
Cataldi believes masks are one critical component of keeping adults and children safer in schools. She also supports measures like frequent hand-washing and keeping kids in smaller groups
Many Colorado school districts are planning to require students to wear masks, since classrooms may not be able to accommodate six feet of social distance between students. The Colorado Department of Education is recommending masks for students 3 and older, though admits they may not be feasible in all settings.
Many teachers believe that it will not be easy to keep a mask on younger elementary students.
“I teach (kindergarten) often and I’ve already thought about kids using these masks as boomerangs,” said Denver Public Schools teacher Shannon Salerno.
However, Salerno believes older children and teenagers will comply with the rules.
Jeffco Public Schools 4th grade teacher Nancy Elliott agrees that younger students will be difficult to manage if schools reopen. Elliott also has health issues and worries about gaps in the mask policies, like when students take them off for meals.
“What’s the point of wearing it all day if they’re just going to have it off while they’re eating and talking loudly,” questioned Elliott.
Some parents share Elliott’s concerns, saying there are still more questions districts haven’t answered. DPS parent Jill Pena wondered if students will need to bring extra masks in case they get dirty.
One sign of hope comes from summer camps, where children have been required to wear masks for several weeks. At South Suburban’s day camp in Lone Tree, we observed children keeping their masks on even while playing outdoor games.
Jessica Skierra, family services coordinator for South Suburban Parks and Recreation, admits they’ve had to correct kids at times.
“The ages that struggle with it the most are the five and six year old’s, but pretty much everyone else from day one has been good about it,” Skiera said.
Skiera said they’ve used some incentives like prizes and treats to help kids comply.
“I think anything that’s difficult if you practice makes it easier, so if it’s something that kids are struggling with putting a mask on and having them practice wearing it will definitely make it easier in the long run,” Skiera said.
4th grade camper Sienna Mattingly and the other kids admitted they don’t love wearing the masks, but they understand the importance, and said they will wear them if it means going back to school.
“I would not want to, but I could,” Mattingly said.