Parents Pissed, Pleased After Douglas County School Mask Order Ruling

Many of the parents at last night's Douglas County School Board meeting were upset about the mask ruling.
Many of the parents at last night's Douglas County School Board meeting were upset about the mask ruling. CBS4 Denver
The debate over COVID-19 mask usage in Douglas County schools got even more tense yesterday, October 27, when a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against radically loosened restrictions okayed by the recently formed Douglas County Health Department. A meeting last night of the board representing the Douglas County School District, whose lawsuit led to the ruling, featured hours of bellyaching from parents upset by the edict, who outnumbered supporters of the action by a wide margin.

And they're unlikely to quiet down anytime soon. The order from John L. Kane, a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Colorado, states that it "shall remain in effect until 3:00 p.m on Monday, November 8, 2021, unless dissolved sooner or extended by order of this Court."

This showdown has been looming since October 8, when the DCHD, which was formed after county commissioners bailed from the Tri-County Health Department over COVID restrictions, approved an order allowing parents to opt out of school face-covering mandates for their kids — and the politics behind the edict were clear. Board of Health president Doug Benevento was a former member of the Douglas County School Board's ultra-conservative bloc prior to his 2016 resignation, while vice president Lora Thomas and boardmember George Teal are both county commissioners. The other members are Dr. Linda Fielding, a radiologist and associate professor with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and Kim Muramoto, a registered nurse who heads Centura Health's trauma network.

Two days later, on October 10, the school district, which had been resisting pressure from the commissioners to ditch masking rules, made it clear that face coverings were still required at its institutions. This point was reinforced by the subsequent lawsuit against the health department, which objected to language in the DCHD order stating that "certain individuals shall be exempt from any requirement to wear a Face Covering within Douglas County, if an individual aged 18 or older presents to any person or entity charged with enforcing and/or supervising such a requirement to wear a Face Covering, or in the case of a child a written declaration signed by the parent or guardian of the child, requesting to be exempted from the requirement to wear a Face Covering due to the negative impact on that individual's physical and/or mental health."

The Douglas County Health Department document added: "No individual in Douglas County, regardless of age, shall be required to quarantine because of exposure to a known COVID-19 positive case unless the exposure is associated with a known Outbreak or otherwise required by superseding state or federal mandate."

In his response to the lawsuit, in which the school district was joined by nine parents identified only by their initials, Judge Kane delivered a smackdown to the new health department. After outlining the reams of evidence showing that mask usage helps to protect students and staffers from infection, he concluded the "evidence demonstrates that Student Plaintiffs are at a significantly increased risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. It also establishes that quarantine requirements for exposed individuals and mask mandates that permit medically documented exemptions are prudent and necessary to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.... Thus, I find that a fourteen-day temporary restriction on enforcement of the Public Health Order will protect Student Plaintiffs from potential irreparable harm and is in the public interest. Defendants will be given an additional opportunity to oppose issuance of a preliminary injunction and will be able to present further evidence at the related hearing. At that time, I will reconsider the matters before me."

The response to the ruling from the Douglas County Board of Health, delivered in a four-part tweet, reads: "We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision to issue a temporary restraining order. We remain confident that when we have more time to make a full case we will be able to demonstrate that the Douglas County Board of Health struck the proper balance of public health protection and parental involvement in health care decisions for their children. Our Order allowed the school district to continue its mask mandate even though the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lifted its statewide mask mandate for students in July. We would continue to encourage the Douglas County Board of Education to make partners of all parents in decisions that fundamentally impact their children."

Whether the bitching about masks at last night's school board meeting qualified as respectful disagreement is debatable — as is everything else about face-covering mandates these days. Here's the video of the session, which runs for just shy of six and a half hours.
Click to read the Douglas County masking temporary restraining order.
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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