School District 51 School Board on Removing Mask Requirements


GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) – The Mesa Valley County School District 51 School Board has changed the COVID-19 protocol in schools. From February 7, students and staff will no longer be required to wear masks in schools and classrooms.

“Our job as a school board is to ensure that students and staff are safe, that schools remain open, and that we ensure high educational outcomes,” said Dr. Kari Sholtes, school board superintendent of the district 51 of district B.

At Tuesday’s District 51 school board meeting, administrators Andrea Haitz, Willie Jones and Angela Lema voted to end remaining mask requirements for classrooms and schools beginning Feb. 7. Trustees Doug Levinson and Dr. Sholtes voted to keep them.

“Our previous process was for the superintendent to meet with the public health department and nursing staff and come up with plans to keep kids safe and schools open,” Dr Sholtes said.

Dr Sholtes said he also received guidance from the task force made up of medical staff and community members.

“And then Tuesday night, we not only changed the process by taking it out of the hands of our leaders and public health experts, and we just put it into the hands of the council,” Dr. Sholtes said. “So it was against our policies and against the process that the community bought into. So I did not agree with this step and in addition we changed the result. We have stopped implementing protective measures for students in the event of known and suspected epidemics.

The Mesa County Health Department was waiting for 3 measures to be met before the protocols disappeared. In relation to the incidence rate, the positivity rate and the average hospitalizations.

“That was the process we planned to go through and we also decided on Tuesday night to scrap that agreement that we had with the community and the public health department,” Dr Sholtes said.

Another point Dr. Sholtes raised is the lack of a plan for the most vulnerable students and how the district plans to keep those who are at higher risk in school. Since people can be asymptomatic and still spread it.

District 51, District E school board superintendent Angela Lema has a different reasoning behind her decision.

“I voted to end mask requirements and make it the choice of parents,” said Angela Lema. “It’s really about giving students and parents that choice at this point. We talked about doing this when the new council was sworn in at the end of November and we waited to do so to ensure that parents and students had the opportunity to be vaccinated if they chose to do so.

Lema went on to say that they are also waiting for masks to be more widely available in schools.

“According to parents and students, there was a big gap in learning, a big gap in their emotional well-being behind the masks,” Lema said. “While some kids did very well, many weren’t.”

Dr Sholtes and Lema said that was not on the agenda before voting on the decision on Tuesday. Since the board was unaware, it was responsible for making this decision. As is usually the superintendent, the public health department and nursing staff are responsible.

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