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Montezuma-Cortez no longer requires masks for staff, eliminates serial testing

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Board of Education voted to do away with mandatory masks for staff and serial testing in schools.
District loosens pandemic protocol

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 has loosened pandemic protocol, discontinuing state-sponsored serial testing and ending its mask mandate for staff – except for bus drivers, who are subject to a federal mandate.

At the Nov. 16 board meeting, members also voted against a revision to the district’s Citizen’s Guide to Reopening that would allow for school closure to be implemented with a single positive case of COVID-19. It also turned down proposed metrics that would outline specific mitigation strategies for ranges of virus cases in schools.

COVID-19 protocol has been an ongoing point of contention in the school district as community members continuously expressed differing opinions on how to address the pandemic.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, some residents criticized district responses such as the school closures Oct. 27 through Nov. 5. Other speakers called for tighter regulations.

Montezuma-Cortez High School nurse Jacyln Hall said the district has experienced a decline in COVID-19 cases, with 16 active at the time of her report.

She said school staff have spent hours tracking cases, studying seating charts and pinpointing which students might have been in close contact with a positive case.

She recommended updating school case numbers online for parents to view.

In her recommendations for updated virus protocol, Hall referenced the Dolores and Mancos school districts – particularly her in-depth conversations with Mancos district nurse Sharon Martinez — as well as meetings with the Montezuma County Health Department.

Since then, the district has changed the way it notifies parents. It is scaling back on contact tracing and plans to send letters to all parents who have a student attending a class in which someone has tested positive for COVID-19.

Parents are advised to call the health department and their provider for further consultation, and it is then up to them to decide whether to implement quarantines for their children if they are asymptomatic.

“People are wanting choices, so we would like to give that to them,” Hall told the board.

In Mancos, letters are sent to entire classes, she said.

The Mancos School District RE-6 has had relative success managing COVID-19 cases this school year. At the peak of its virus cases, 14 students and teachers were infected. While the other districts in Montezuma County have experienced virus-related closures, Mancos has not.

Mancos is implementing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s voluntary serial testing program, while Dolores is not.

Hall expressed several concerns about the serial testing. The district must dispose of biohazards, and school nurses don’t directly receive test results, she said. She added that communication is “inconsistent” from state contractors. And she wondered whether monetary incentives for students who undergo testing were a form of “bribery.”

She said that when she applied for serial testing, she viewed it as a tool for easing district quarantines. At the time, options such as at-home testing kits and vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds were not available, she said.

Hall said several staff have approached her and asked about the effectiveness of mandatory masks for employees.

“There’s really nothing in the guidance that says that staff only in masks is effective,” she said at the meeting. “It’s either everyone in masks or everyone gets to choose.”

Although board members agreed to drop the mask requirement and serial testing, board member Sheri Noyes emphasized that she wanted the district to focus less on the virus. She suggested academic achievement might improve if resources used to track viruses were shifted to instructional opportunities for students.

“I think we’re concentrating on the wrong thing, and I’d like to scrap the whole COVID plan altogether,” she said.

Noyes later became emotional and apologized for her statement, explaining that she wasn’t criticizing teachers. They’re “rock stars,” she said.