District 51 updates future masking protocols

D51 Keeping Schools Open Plan being updated
D51 Keeping Schools Open Plan being updated(KKCO)
Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 8:12 PM MST
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Mesa County Valley School District 51 sent out an email to parents and staff updating protocols, especially as it relates to wearing masks.

The message cites the Mesa County Public Health data dashboard which reflects a downward trend in COVID cases. The date of February 7 is listed as a day where masks will no longer be required for students or staff but highly recommended.

Masks haven’t been required, but highly recommended since the start of the school year. However, masking in the class for 14 calendar days when a student or staff member tested positive was required or when a school reached 2% positivity.

District 51 says with the vaccine available for students 5-years-old and up they are planning on changes to the Keeping Schools Open Plan.

The following is the full message sent out on December 27:

Dear District 51 families and staff,

We are proud in D51 that we have been able to stay open for in-person learning for the past year and a half. We were the largest district in the state to return to in-person learning last year, and stay in-person. That wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our teachers, staff, administrators, students, and families. Our goal last year was to figure out how to return to in-person learning after having to go fully remote during the 4th quarter of the 2020 school year. After a successful year, our goal this year was to remain in person, while trying to get back to as normal of a school year as possible. With the help of Mesa County Public Health and a Task Force made up of parents, teachers, and health professionals, we were able to come up with a plan to return to in-person learning this year that attempted to mirror what we are experiencing in our community, as well.

  • Masks have not been required, but highly recommended since the start of the school year.
  • Since the COVID vaccine wasn’t available for elementary age students, we put in a safeguard to try and slow spread in a class when students were exposed to a COVID-positive individual (masking the class for 14 calendar days when a student or staff member tested positive).
  • We also needed a safeguard for when a school reached a point where widespread transmission might have been happening (masking the school for 14 calendar days when the school reached 2% student positivity).
  • We have also continued to promote mitigation factors like proper handwashing, increased airflow and ventilation in buildings, encouraging mask use indoors, encouraging families to keep symptomatic students home, etc.
  • We also introduced a rapid testing program in schools to help families and staff have access to free, rapid testing when students and staff are symptomatic (with parent/guardian consent).

This plan has been fluid and ever changing from the beginning. Some changes to the plan have been small and barely noticeable, and some changes have been larger and more noticeable. We’ve been able to be nimble and make changes to the plan where we can over the last year and a half. The goal has always been to figure out a way to keep students and staff as safe as possible, kids in in-person learning, and to get as close to a “normal” school experience as we can.

Now, with the vaccine available for all students age 5 and up, we are in a different place as a school district than we were at the beginning of the year. We have been meeting with MCPH and members of the board to see if the next phase of our Keeping Schools Open Plan is possible. We also asked for feedback from our Task Force members. As you can imagine, we’ve received mixed feedback ranging from requests to add more protocols, to requests to keep all current protocols in place, to requests to relax certain protocols in the plan. Whether you’re a family member, a member of the medical community, or a teacher/staff member of the district, we are all going to have differing opinions about COVID, what mitigating measures we should put in place, and what measures are considered “overreach” by the district. We appreciate that MCPH has been a resource throughout this process, and will continue to be accessible moving forward.

The vaccine is now readily available, and according to the MCPH data dashboard, cases in our community are declining, therefore, we are looking forward to moving even closer to a more normal school year for our students and staff. This would somewhat emulate what Mesa County did when rolling out the Free to Choose plan last spring. We hope to move to a place, starting on February 7, where masks are no longer required for students or staff, but highly recommended at all times, instead. Masking students will be a choice by parents/guardians. We are also hoping that, by giving families and staff enough of a heads up, families that want to vaccinate their children will have time to do so. The same goes for staff who haven’t taken advantage of the vaccine, yet. We will continue to promote mitigation factors like masking, hand washing, symptom screening, testing, etc., but we will move away from requiring masks to giving families and staff a choice when it comes to masking.

In order for the district to be at a place where we can move to not requiring masking, we will be monitoring county and district data (one week average positivity, one week cumulative incident rate, hospital capacity, number of cases in schools, number of staff out due to COVID, etc.), as we always do. If the data is not trending in the right direction, we will push pause on this plan until the data shows we are ready. The point of getting the information out now is to allow for families to prepare for us to head in this direction. Also, if we make this change, and the data begins to trend in the wrong direction due to the change, then we are prepared to look at bringing universal masking back as a mitigation factor.

We realize that this news will invite mixed emotions. We know that any plan we put in place will receive criticism…this has been the case all along. With MCPH working on additional strategies to prevent widespread infection, we feel that we are at a place to try and move to a more normal school environment where families have choice when it comes to mask wearing.The details on what COVID protocols will look like beginning on February 7 are still being worked out, and we will communicate more detailed plans in January. But, we wanted to give families and staff a heads up on where we are headed so they can plan accordingly. If you are interested in more information about vaccines, or if you want to sign up to receive a vaccine for your child, please visit https://health.mesacounty.us/covid19/vaccine/. The vaccination rates for children in Mesa County can be found here. Currently, only 11% of children ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated, and 35% of children ages 12 to 18 are vaccinated. We encourage families to visit the Mesa County Public Health website to find out more about the vaccine, and we encourage families to reach out to their child’s doctor with any questions they may have about the vaccine. As always, if you have questions for us, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Thank you,

District 51 Admin

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