DENVER — As districts across Colorado prepare for in-class learning to resume this fall, the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus remains a stumbling block for districts and parents alike.
To help school districts navigate some of the confusion, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released Wednesday a set of guidelines for return to in-person learning, which strongly recommends the continued use of mask wearing.
The guidelines, titled Roadmap to In-Person Learning, covers other protocols, like social distancing, cohorting, testing, and ventilation. Districts are not required to follow the guidelines. However, many of them said they are working with the CDPHE to determine what safety protocols will be needed for the 2021-22 school year.
One of the main concerns for parents is mask mandates. So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, while unvaccinated people should continue to wear them.
However, the CDPHE guidelines strongly recommends children ages 3 and over to continue wearing a mask, regardless of vaccination status.
Recent news that emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12 could come in early to midwinter has health experts worried about the potential for the delta variant to spread among unvaccinated children once school starts.
Denver7 reached out to seven school districts across the Denver metro area about what their plans are for masks and their COVID-19 response when school starts back up.
The general consensus when it comes to mask-wearing is they too are working with health partners and will share information with parents before the start of school. Douglas County has already said it won’t require masks for students and staff. Denver Public Schools said it is possible that the use of masks will continue at the start of the school year. The Boulder Valley School District said masks will likely not be mandatory.
On Wednesday, Douglas County School District released it's protocols for the 2021-22 school year. The district said it will strongly encourage students to wear face coverings but will not require them. In a letter to parents, it said it will honor parents when it comes to their children wearing or not wearing face coverings and will not tolerate "mask shaming." DCSD said schools will continue to implement physical distancing where possible.
Other issues seen in the previous school year were disruptions caused by cohorting and quarantine requirements. The CDPHE addressed this in the guidelines, recommending the “support of effective cohorting models and protocols to minimize classroom disruptions, and continue to research more effective ways to minimize disruptions from qurantines.”
The guidance for quarantine recommends districts adopt a “targeted contact identification” approach, which allows students, educators, and staff who are not in small cohorts to be identified based on determinations of close contact with a confirmed case, the roadmap reads. In addition, the state has recently adopted CDC’s options for shortened quarantine.
Testing, contact tracing, and vaccination prioritization for teachers are also included in the roadmap.
As of July 15, nearly 4.09 million children have been infected with the novel coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Those numbers represent 14.2% of all cases in the United States.
At least 397 children, ages 0-17, have died from COVID-19, CDC data shows.