No signs. No lines. No outbursts. Yet more than half the people who gave public comment at the Aug. 26 Littleton Public Schools board meeting spoke against the new mask-wearing requirement that the district announced the previous week.
“This is power versus parental rights,” the third speaker from the audience said. “It's force versus freedom. And it's mandate versus choice.”
Although the board was not scheduled to discuss or vote on COVID-safety policies, the district's recent change in mask guidelines for students in preschool through sixth grade drew five community members and their supporters to the meeting to express opposition.
The policy change is a result of the Tri-County Health Department's Aug. 17 order requiring masks for all children ages 2 to 11 years old in all indoor school and child-care settings.
“Littleton Public Schools is required by law to follow these public health orders,” Superintendent Brian Ewert wrote in an Aug. 19 letter to the district's families.
Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from Tri-County Health, the third speaker explained why he felt the public health order was “baseless and without merit.” He, like several other speakers that night, asked that the school board opt out of the order when they have the opportunity.
“No one's saying don't wear a mask. Give us the option,” he said. “That's what parents want. That's what kids want.”
A 10th-grader from Littleton High School told the board about his negative experience with virtual learning and mask-wearing last year. He explained the social and educational impacts he faced, including difficulty making friends.
“When everybody's wearing masks you can't put names to faces,” he said. “You don't get to see emotions and expressions, that kind of normal human connection.”
His request? “Please let us be kids,” he said.
One woman from Twain Elementary spoke to the board via telephone and thanked them for following Tri-County Health's mandate.
Ewert said in his report to the board that 14 students had withdrawn from the district to attend other places that don't require masks. However, the district had six new enrollments from places that do not have a mask mandate, he said.
Currently there are 17 students in what he called a “temporary withdrawal state” who are waiting to see what happens in the upcoming weeks regarding masking.
Ralph Moody Elementary, Wilder Elementary and Newton Middle School have each experienced a COVID-19 outbreak since the beginning of the school year, Assistant Superintendent Melissa Copper said. Outbreaks are reported on the district's online COVID Dashboard page.
An outbreak is defined by Tri-County Health as five or more confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in a class, a grade level or extracurricular activity within a 14-day period, Cooper said. Last year an outbreak was defined as two cases.
During the break halfway through the meeting and again once the meeting had resumed, school board President Robert Reichardt articulated his gratitude to the public commenters for giving feedback.
“I appreciate people coming here to challenge us and share views that may not reflect our current policy or even my own perspectives,” Reichardt said. “... I also am very, very thankful that we were able to run a respectful meeting where people were able to disagree.”
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