MCSD: Masks ‘strongly encouraged,’ but not required at school
Moffat County School District students will not be required to wear masks during the upcoming school year after the school board voted Tuesday to approve administrators’ plan to reopen completely and without restriction. The board voted 5-1 in favor of the plan.
Presented by Superintendent Scott Pankow, the district’s plan to reopen was constructed over several weeks and meetings. He said the district will take a “balanced approach” to this fall semester.
“We do have an asterisk, (because) we know that plans are subject to change with mandates, governor’s orders (and) different types of things,” Pankow said. “But at this point in time, this is our best thinking of how we would like to open up our schools in less than three weeks.”
The district will have voluntary serial weekly testing for unvaccinated staff and students. If 70% of the unvaccinated population opts into the testing, then it will not be required for unvaccinated people without symptoms to quarantine. Pankow said the school district signed up to receive part of $172 million set aside by the state to pay for serial testing to relieve that cost from the district budget.
Currently, it’s unclear exactly how many staff members are vaccinated, but school records show which students over the age of 12 have been vaccinated. Parents can still opt out to not report whether or not their children are vaccinated, and staff members will self-report, while CDPHE will conduct tracing.
Masks will not be required of anyone in buildings, but MCSD administrators “strongly encourage” masks for unvaccinated students and staff. Students will not be split into separate cohorts and will attend everyday as a full student body, but seating charts will be used to help conduct contact tracing. The same rules will apply to MCSD buses.
Pankow said that schools in the district were not “superspreaders” — especially when compared to numbers in Craig and the county. However, if that were to change as the school year progresses, the plan is subject to change. Pankow said if infection rates rise above 2%, it will be mandatory for all adults to wear masks, and if that rate rises above 3%, students and staff will then be required to wear face coverings.
According to the presentation, 48 students in the district would have to test positive to reach 2%, and 72 students must test positive to reach 3%.
“I want to stress to you is the importance of these decisions were based on what we saw here in our buildings,” Pankow said. “We didn’t match what happened in the community. We never got to transmission or infection rates that were as high as what’s recorded at the hospital or the community. We were not a superspreader within our buildings.”
Currently, there is no public health order placed on Moffat County that requires masks or vaccination in public spaces. Visitors of MCSD will not have to wear a mask, but unvaccinated visitors will be “strongly encouraged.” Athletics and other activities will resume as normal. When travelling for sports and other activities, MCSD will follow the home school’s rules, Pankow said.
Last fall, kindergarten through 5th grade were completely in person, while the middle and high schools were in a hybrid form of attending classes; students were split into two cohorts that took turns attending in-person and online classes. After three quarters, Moffat County students returned to full in-person classes, where they were required to wear masks throughout the school day.
The only dissenting vote came from Dr. Elise Sullivan, who presented statistics and data during the meeting. Sullivan said that current data shows that 9% of children who contract COVID-19 have long-haul symptoms, but a vast majority reach full recovery by week 35.
“As a doctor who is serving here, I care about the people that I know and just pray that we are taking care of ourselves through another year,” Sullivan said. “I will be voting no because I cannot go against the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to wear masks. Other than that, I think it is a good plan.”
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s guide for reopening schools, students with underlying health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, down syndrome and heart disease are more likely to experience severe health impacts, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Sullivan said that 34% over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated. According to recommendations from the CDPHE’s reopening guide, in a low-risk community, 70% of a community must be vaccinated, the school must have a vaccination rate over 70% among staff and students age 12 and older, and the community’s transmission rate should be under 35 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. Based on those guidelines, Craig is considered high-risk, Sullivan said.
To meet that goal, Sullivan said that Craig would have to have only three to four active cases reported each Monday.
“For the last this week (of data available by July 24), we had 27 active cases posted on Monday, but three weeks before that we had 54 active cases,” Sullivan said.
The board did not take public comment at the meeting, but administrators took suggestions from an open form available on the Moffat County School District website. That form is still open for parents and other citizens to submit comments.
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