Coronavirus

Douglas County School Board Opts Out of COVID Masks, Jeffco Complaints Mount

Most of the Douglas County School Board members were unmasked at the December 7 meeting.
Most of the Douglas County School Board members were unmasked at the December 7 meeting. Douglas County Schools via YouTube
Douglas County and Jefferson County headed in opposite political directions during the November 2 election regarding COVID-19 safety protocols. Douglas County voters chose a slate of conservative school-board members who promised to reinstate optional mask rules that the Douglas County School District had sued to stop — and at a meeting that ended early on December 7, they did just that.

Meanwhile, the district attorney's office in Jefferson County has declined to prosecute a man for sending letters that mask-supporting school-board members there found threatening, even as the Jeffco health department is sifting through more than 100 complaints from residents about spotty compliance with the face-covering mandate at other public places.

There wasn't a lot of suspense as to whether the reconstituted Douglas County School Board would pass a new mask resolution. The fact that most boardmembers were mask-free during the marathon session, which actually began on the evening of December 6, sent a visual signal that was impossible to miss. And once the new regulations were passed, the majority didn't want to wait to put them in place, voting down an amendment to hold off on implementation until January.

Here's a video of the meeting that runs for nearly seven and a half hours:
The resolution begins by reinforcing the board's duty to "adopt policies necessary and proper for the efficient administration of the affairs of the District" before shifting into rationalization. One passage notes that "students enter and are present in numerous daily situations where not every individual must wear a face covering, including grocery stores, restaurants, family gatherings, and entertainment venues" — an accurate statement, since Douglas County refused to sign on to the mask-and-vax rule put into place by health departments in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams counties just before Thanksgiving.

Then, after noting that the lawsuit over the opt-in mask rule issued by the Douglas County Health Department had been officially dismissed on November 19, the resolution stresses, "The Board is a strong proponent of individual responsibility and personal choice, such that students and their families and staff members can generally make their own decisions about their own health outcomes." Hence the recommendation that "regardless of vaccination status, personal and parent choice with respect to whether or not children should wear face coverings while at school" is now paramount.

This move will no doubt please the face-covering hater who issued a blistering rant against the previous board at a November 9 meeting. But in Jefferson County, tensions remain high, as exemplified by an anonymous anti-mask letter sent to that jurisdiction's school-board members. The missive didn't contain any overt threats, but it did include photos of members' homes, which several found intimidating.

Nonetheless, as first reported by CBS4, the 1st Judicial District Attorney has given a pass to the sender, later identified as David Morrill, because "our office cannot ethically file charges for crimes that cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial," a DA's spokesperson notes.

Morrill's views notwithstanding, Jefferson County voters chose to elect union-backed school-board members who support in-school masking during the November election — and over at Jefferson County Public Health, public affairs manager Ashley Sever confirms that as of December 7, her department has received 160 complaints about the lack of masking at public indoor spaces (here's the online link for sharing such concerns).

However, Sever maintains, "We are seeing so many businesses in our community do their part to protect residents" — among them "84 businesses, events and organizations that have already been temporarily approved as part of the Fully Vaccinated Facility Program. We look forward to supporting more facilities in joining the program with our formal application process starting December 10, too."

Two Denver area counties, two different worlds. Click to read the December 7 Douglas County School Board mask resolution.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts