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Cortez parents await word on protocol for new school year

The Montezuma-Cortez Board of Education will meet Tuesday night for the last time before the start of the new school year.
Ahead of tonight’s board work session, parents still unsure whether students will be required to wear masks

With less than two weeks until Aug. 16, the first day of the 2021-22 school year, families are wondering what their children’s upcoming fall semester will look like after more than a year of COVID-19 disruptions.

A Montezuma Cortez RE-1 School District work session takes place tonight. The meeting may provide details regarding pandemic precautions.

Some parents have been left to reflect about their children’s return to in-person learning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all students over the age of 2 who haven’t been fully vaccinated should wear masks while indoors, and maintain a distance of 3 feet from one another.

However, many children under the age of 12 are not eligible for full vaccination.

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On July 9, the CDC amended its guidelines for K-12 education. The suggestions stated that schools with unvaccinated students should practice distancing, but no student should be barred from in-person classes if social distancing is not possible.

Then, on Friday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment adopted more recent CDC recommendations that everyone in a school setting wear a mask. However, school districts may set their own policy.

“We all want children to be back at school and as safe as possible,” said State Epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy in a news release obtained by Chalkbeat. "Masks are an added layer of protection, as we hope that even more children ages 12+ will get vaccinated.”

According to a verified email obtained by Chalkbeat, masks will be “required inside school buildings for all Denver students, staff and visitors, whether they’re vaccinated or not.”

How closely local schools will follow CDC guidelines remains unclear.

Marie Sage’s child is starting fourth grade at Battle Rock Charter School this month, but she said she has not heard how the school will address the pandemic yet — or whether students will wear masks.

“The age they are — I just don’t think they need to be wearing them all day,” she said.

Sage said she’s been actively looking out for guidelines from the school, and has checked the institution’s Facebook page. But with school starting in fewer than two weeks, she still feels in the dark.

Another local mother with students enrolled in the district, who prefers not to be named, has concerns about masks not being required at school.

“I have an infant at home who obviously cannot fight off viruses like older kids can,” she said. “Second, a lot of kids struggled with remote learning, and I worry Cortez schools will be shut down for outbreaks due to not masking.”

The mother of three said she understands that kids are not always the biggest fans of consistently wearing masks.

“I definitely am not angry at the school decision,” she said.

That awareness does not stop her from having reservations about the coming school year.

“I don’t really understand how it isn’t a huge liability for our school systems to go against CDC recommendations,” she said.

Another parent, Ashton Baker, has received mixed signals from her child’s school. Her second grader at Mesa Elementary will ride the bus.

“I just got a call from the school today about it and (the school representative) said they weren’t currently enforcing masks on the bus,” she said.

However, the representative she spoke to told her this would likely shift within the next few days.

“She said she assumed if they were being made to wear masks on the bus they most likely would be in school as well,” she said.

Hannah-Nyibol Deng Bior, a special education teacher in Dolores, also said she wasn’t whether masks will be required in her district, Re-4A.

“I don’t believe the hybrid model was effective, not for the majority who prefer learning in-person,” she added.

Superintendent Risha VanderWey

Superintendent Risha VanderWey could not be reached Tuesday for immediate comment.

Classroom procedures regarding COVID-19 may develop with instruction from Gov. Polis and school district decisions regarding the delta variant.

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