Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

TSD extends mask mandate to all district high schools

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | September 03, 2021 | Education

At a special meeting on Friday morning, the Thompson School District (TSD) Board of Education voted unanimously, 6-0, to extend the face mask mandate to the district high schools. The meeting did not allow for public comment and was sparsely attended.

On Aug. 18, the board voted to enact a mask mandate for all Pre-K through eighth-grade schools that went into effect on Aug. 23. The high school mandate goes into effect on Sept. 7, following the holiday weekend.

Just minutes into the meeting, board member Dawn Kirk made a motion to extend the mask mandate to include all the district high schools following a brief report from TSD Chief Operations Officer Todd Piccone, where he outlined that outbreaks – defined as five or more positive cases – have been reported at four Loveland schools. The four schools were Loveland High, Mountain View High, Coyote Ridge Elementary and Lucille Erwin Middle Schools, the latter two have been under the mask mandate since Aug. 23.

Board President Lori Hvizda Ward said news of the outbreaks, “is extremely alarming to me,” while Kirk stated, “We’re really back to the place of having an emergency, this feels a lot like when we made our first decisions regarding COVID, this is kind of the place we’re back to.”

Kirk further stated she believes the board acted too late and said, in effect, that the mandate should have included high schools from the very beginning. Board Vice President Pam Howard remarked that the TSD must join surrounding districts such as St. Vrain, Poudre, Boulder and Estes Park in requiring a universal mask mandate.

Jarrett Roberts, board member representing Loveland, offered an amendment for a 60-day expiration on the mask mandate. Said Roberts, “(Put a) 60-day expiration on it, that would give us time, one, see where this is going, two, we’ve gone through the outbreak at the schools, it’s 28 days.” The motion was seconded by Berthoud board representative Stu Boyd.

During the subsequent discussion, Roberts stated, and Piccone confirmed, that there have been positive cases amongst vaccinated staff members. Kirk was not receptive to Robert’s motion for the amendment, insisting that the decision when and if to lift the mandate be left to district staff, not the board, as the motion initially made by Kirk and seconded by Board Vice President Pam Howard allows Superintendent Marc Schaffer to “determine changes (that) may be necessary or appropriate in response to on-going information from applicable health officials and authorities.”

Piccone, in response to Boyd asking his stance on the proposed amendment, was unsupportive of the amendment, as was Schaffer, arguing it is better to rely on county health officials. Said Piccone, “what we’ve learned over the last year and a half is we have got to be prudent to follow guidance that is out there … whenever we go back to a matrix that the state or the county may have, proves to be the best outcome for staff and students.” The amendment was subsequently withdrawn and the board voted unanimously to approve the initial motion.

News of the mandate being extended to the high school was not well-received by some parents. Shara Larson, the mother of three Berthoud High honor roll students who are all multi-sport athletes, was one of those not pleased with the decision.

Larson, who, along with her husband, is an attorney, said, “I am heartbroken that the Thompson School District has instituted a mask mandate across all grade levels when the county itself is not mandating masks on the general population. The county has an outbreak protocol in place and rather than following and implementing that protocol, the board has chosen to exceed it by implementing a mask mandate against children with vague and generalized endpoints. They could have put in the work to develop a clear, school-specific and data-based approach but instead they choose this. I think it’s shameful to put this weight and anxiety on the shoulders of children.”

Christian Jorgensen, a TSD parent, is also bothered by the news and said, “The board has gone completely rogue here, and made personal agenda decisions for an entire district population of young children. Medical decisions are not the boards to make, that’s the health department’s job and they refuse to do so. It’s not the county commissioners’ job, either. They are unregulated and out of control with all of this.  This has gone on long enough; it needs to end. A virus is a virus, it’s going to change and it’s time to live with it.

While the decision to institute a universal mask mandate was made official in Friday’s special meeting, evidence suggests that efforts for a mask mandate, and possible vaccine mandate and regular testing, have been being made behind the scenes for some time.

In emails obtained by the Surveyor, Hvizda Ward, on multiple occasions, requested Larimer County Commissioners Jody Shadduck-McNally (D-Loveland), Kristin Stephens (D-Fort Collins) and Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) to institute county-wide and, later, state-wide mask mandates for all K-12 schools.

In an email sent from Hvizda Ward to Shadduck-McNally on Aug. 18, Ward wrote, in part, “We are not the health experts, however, and neither the County nor the State health policy professionals are willing to lead on this. Boulder County has shown decisive leadership by mandating mask-wearing in schools. Larimer County, like Weld County, appears to be unwilling to even consider a mask mandate. Commissioners Kefalas and Stephens are aware of our request for the County to act on this, the County has the authority to enact health orders, which the school district is tasked with following.” The email concluded with Hvizda Ward requesting Shadduck-McNally and her colleagues at the county to “take action.”

On Aug. 22, the day prior to the board’s vote instituting the Pre-K through eighth-grade mask mandate, a correspondence Hvizda Ward sent to the commissioners and Gov. Polis read, “To date, neither Larimer County nor the State of Colorado have enacted health orders mandating masks in schools, vaccinations, or regular COVID-19 testing. It has been left to each local school board to enact such orders. Due to rising case counts, increasing COVID patients in hospitals, and pleas from our county department of health, we felt it necessary to lead.”

Hvizda Ward continued, “You have passed the buck straight to the smallest, least-resourced level of government. Why? I know that each of you individually supports the science around the wearing of masks indoors. Why, then, will you not act? I understand that there is a political tightrope you all must walk if you wish to maintain your offices at the next election. But please do not let our children become political pawns – I know you are all better than that.”

Hvizda Ward concluded by writing, “Governor Polis, I have met your delightful young children and I know you are doing what you need to do to keep them safe. Commissioners, I know you are parents, grandparents, educators, and public servants. Please help us protect our community’s children – enact a county/statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools in areas with high or substantial community transmission of COVID-19.”

Prior to the conclusion of the meeting, Schaffer announced that Katie O’Donnell, formerly the Community Relations and Public Information Supervisor for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, has been hired to be the district’s “COVID Coordinator,” where she will oversee all COVID-related issues pertaining to the district and provide regular updates to the board.

The Surveyor will update this story as developments warrant.

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