DENVER – Students in pre-K through 6th grade at Cherry Creek Schools will be required to wear masks indoors when they start the new school year next week.
District Superintendent Christopher Smith announced the new guidelines in a letter to parents, students, teachers and staff just three days before the district begins welcoming thousands of students in a phased-in approach.
“Over the past week, we have had frequent conversations with our partners at Tri-County Health Department about COVID-19 conditions and the surge of the more contagious Delta variant,” Smith wrote. “Tri-County stated in a letter today that it is not safe for students younger than 12 years old to attend school without a mask, as they are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine at this time.”
The letter from the superintendent outlines some key points from TCHD executive director Dr. John Douglas, about the need for students in this age group to wear masks as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to spread in Colorado.
The letter states transmission of COVID-19 “is highly likely in the school setting without high levels of mask wearing,” and would pose a considerable risk to the health of children, especially those who are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine has been given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for children 12 and up. EUA for kids younger than 12 could come in early to midwinter.
It also states transmission of COVID-19 would pose a considerable risk to family and friends “outside of the school setting, especially for those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.”
Additionally, the letter from the superintendent states that not requiring mask indoors for kids who are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine would interfere with in-person learning due to the potential of frequent disruptions to the learning environment due to outbreaks and quarantines of whole classrooms.
“I have repeatedly stated that we will follow guidance from our health experts. During a conversation with Dr. Douglas this morning, he stated to me that the conditions in schools are presently not safe for unvaccinated children, particularly those younger than 12 years old, without masks,” Smith wrote. “More than 90% of students in sixth grade are in this age group, so we will be requiring masks for sixth grade students until further notice.”
Staff who work with students in pre-K through 6th grade will also be required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.
In the letter, Smith wrote the mask requirement will help the district keep their schools open and students in the classrooms and emphasized that mask wearing is an important and effective prevention strategy to keep students and staff safe.
He also strongly encouraged students in grades 7 and above as well as the staff that comes into contact with this age group, to wear masks inside school buildings regardless of vaccination status.
“The past year has taught us a lot about the perseverance of our kids, and we want to tap into the strengths of our community as we chart a path forward. From day one, we will focus on meeting the needs of every single student,” Smith wrote in closing. “Our mental health professionals and school counselors will be working with teachers to ensure that all students start the year off with the supports they need to thrive.”
The first day for students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9 is Monday. Grades 1, 2, 7 and 8 start Tuesday, and all rest will begin school on Wednesday.
In the letter, Smith said the district would continue to promote vaccinations, communicate known positive COVID-19 cases to Tri-County Health so that they can contact trace with families appropriately, and monitor conditions as well as follow local and state guidance regarding COVID-19. The district will not, however, be using a COVID-19 tracker on its website as it did last year.
The Tri-County Health Department Board will hold a public comment meeting to discuss whether a public health order requiring masking in schools should be issued by the TCHD. That meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 16 at 3 p.m.
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