Parents and residents presented the Garfield Re-2 school board with a cease and desist letter on Wednesday in response to the district’s recent announcement to move to universal mask requirements, but the letter is unlikely to result in a policy change so soon.
Director of Programs, Assessment and Education Julie Knowles said the district is legally required to quarantine students in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in schools.
âSome have suggested that a remedy for this is that we just don’t quarantine, but we know this is against state law,â she said. âEven before COVID happened, our public health entities had the authority to quarantine individuals to help mitigate the spread of disease, whether it was COVID or measles or whatever. It is therefore very clear that we are required to cooperate with public health. “
So far, the district, one of 17% nationwide to stay in person last school year, has seen at least 67 people testing positive for COVID-19, even when masks have been encouraged at the start of the school year. Meanwhile, there have been 373 quarantines since the start of the school year.
Knowles said the district will lift COVID-19 protocols once 80% of people at a school eligible for a vaccine are vaccinated, a guideline put in place by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education. The district does not ask students whether or not they are vaccinated, said communications director Theresa Hamilton.
Additionally, if the county’s COVID-19 incident rate drops to less than 35 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period, the district will no longer have to quarantine itself for routine exposures, a Knowles said. The current incident rate in Garfield County is 142.9 per 100,000 population.
âWe also know that we have difficulty filling our vacancies when teachers cannot come to school,â she said. “These are 61 vacancies that we have not been able to fill.”
“We are very concerned about being able to keep our doors open,” she added.
The letter demands that the district lift COVID-19-related policies regarding masks and quarantines. Since this is a cease and desist letter – not an order – the school district is under no obligation to respond to it.
Hamilton said the district will review the document with district legal counsel.
âI can tell you that the Garfield Re-2 School District is confident that we are not breaking the law,â she said Thursday. âAnd by following CDPHE’s guidelines, we are trying to protect the community, which includes students, family and staff.â
Local parent Jeff Powers, one of the unofficial leaders of the COVID-19 protocol opposition group, said he was sending a cease and desist letter to the entire school board as well as administrators of district.
The names on the letter include all of the board members, as well as Superintendent Heather Grumley and other directors Lisa Pierce, Sarah Bell, John Oldham, Knowles and Hamilton.
âWe have a paid legal advisor and we are taking formal legal action to protect our children from illegal and harmful health warrants against him issued by these appointees,â he said. âIn a very short time, we have obtained at least 1,400 signatures from parents of Re-2 and concerned citizens of this community. “
Powers said if the district decides not to follow “the will of the people in this matter immediately,” further legal action will be taken.
Wednesday’s regular school board meeting started unlike most others. More than 100 people showed up in the rear parking lot of the Re-2 administration building, many of whom were opponents of the mask ordinance, which is expected to go into effect on Monday.
About 37 people were due to make public comments on Wednesday. Transition Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein had to put the names of speakers on the outside of the building so that the school board room did not reach full capacity.
Journalist Ray K. Erku can be contacted at 612-423-5273 or [email protected]