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Durango School District 9-R releases survey results for lifting mask mandates

Board of Education to discuss policies Tuesday night
Durango School District 9-R released results from its survey asking parents, students and staff members for their feedback on whether mask policies should be adjusted. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

More than 40% of students and parents want COVID-19 mask mandates dropped immediately, while only 35% of staff members felt the same way, according to survey results released Monday night by Durango School District 9-R.

The majority of survey respondents gave mixed answers about when mask mandates should be lifted, including at the end of February, at the end of the school year or whenever transmission rates fall below 100 cases per 100,000 people.

School board President Kristin Smith declined to comment about the survey results until the board has had a chance to discuss them Tuesday night.

“We have to discuss this as a board before we can give any kind of comment,” she said Monday. “All I can tell you is that the board is currently reviewing all of the survey data.”

More than 2,000 people participated in the survey, which was held over the weekend after the first survey became compromised. A coded system was required for the second survey after it became apparent a link from the first survey was shared on social media, which allowed anyone to participate and for people to vote multiple times.

Survey results were divided into three data sets: parents, students and staff.

Of the 1,179 parents who took the survey, 41.9% said they want school mask mandates to end immediately.

But the majority of parents gave varying answers about when masks mandates should be lifted, with 23.3% saying the district should wait until transmission rates fall below the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s high-transmission designation of 100 or more cases per 100,000 people. (As of Friday, La Plata County had a “high” transmission rate, with 225 cases per 100,000, according to San Juan Basin Public Health data.)

Another 12.5% of parents said masks should be worn through the end of the school year. The remaining 22.3% voted for one of three other options, which included lifting mask mandates at the end of February, lifting them at the end of February only if transmission rates are below CDPHE’s high-transmission designation, and “other.”

Of the 608 students who took the survey, 42.4% said they want mask mandates to end immediately. But 16.6% said the school district should wait until transmission rates fall below CDPHE’s high-transmission designation, and 16.5% said mask mandates should stay in place until the end of the school year. The remaining 24.5% said mask mandates should be lifted at the end of February or should be lifted at the end of February only if transmission rates are below CDPHE’s high-transmission designation, or they voted for “other.”

Of the 318 staff members who returned surveys, 34.9% said they want to get rid of mask mandates immediately. But 24.5% want to wait until transmission rates are below CDPHE’s high-transmission designation, and 16.4% want to wait until the end of the school year. Another 24.2% said mandates should be dropped at the end of February, mask mandates should be lifted at the end of February only if transmission rates are below CDPHE’s high-transmission designation, or “other.”

The new survey was issued Friday and closed at 5 p.m. Monday. Some parents and guardians have complained they did not receive an invitation to participate in the newest survey.

Superintendent Karen Cheser said that is largely because only one survey was sent to whichever email address was designated as the primary contact for a parent or guardian of students.

“We have to send out the exact same number of emails to each household, so that means one,” she said. “Some people have one email, and some have six people on file. The coded system will only take the same amount for every single one.”

Cheser said she had not heard from people not receiving the survey; rather, some people wanted additional surveys because they had more people in the household who wanted to weigh in.

The school board is scheduled to discuss its masking policy Tuesday night. The survey is intended to help inform school board members about stakeholders’ feelings and level of comfort with lifting mask mandates. The survey results aren’t the determining factor about whether mask mandates will be continued or dropped.

According to Chalkbeat Colorado, most state school districts have ended mask mandates.

Denver, Jefferson, Larimer and Pueblo counties have all lifted their school mask requirements in the last two weeks, though Denver’s change won’t go into effect until Feb. 28.

The district amended its dress code policy on Aug. 12 to require masks per recommendation of San Juan Basin Public Health.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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