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Bayfield School District defends COVID-19 policies

Parents upset unvaccinated students were asked not to attend outside events
Bayfield High School students pass each other in the hallway.

A notice the Bayfield School District sent to Bayfield Middle School families last month has caused an uproar among several parents.

An estimated 75 people attended the district’s school board meeting Tuesday, with many saying the request that unvaccinated BMS students not attend high school events during a COVID-19 outbreak was unfair, and some called it a form of segregation.

“I’m not trying to impose my will on anyone else,” said Nikki Boling, a mother of students in the district, asking that the district not do the same to her children.

Unlike some districts, Bayfield opened classrooms this fall without a requirement that students wear masks in the classroom.

BMS was closed to in-person learning Sept. 17-24 after there was a COVID-19 outbreak among students. A note was sent to parents asking that unvaccinated middle school students not attend high school events during that week.

On Friday, Superintendent Kevin Aten said the district is doing its best to keep students in classes this fall. Under Colorado Department of Education guidelines, unvaccinated middle school students were asked not to attend high school games that week.

Those games ended up being canceled or postponed because of the district’s COVID-19 numbers. They included a Bayfield football game against Centauri that was canceled on Sept. 26, and a high school volleyball game was postponed.

“It was a non-event,” Aten said, because the games were canceled. “We respect people’s rights not to wear masks. This is just part of that.”

Aten and board president Mike Foutz said they appreciated the input from the parents, and they also thanked parents for keeping their comments at the meeting civil. Several school board meetings across the country have erupted in violence as parents have protested masks and other prevention measures.

Several parents at the meeting said they worry about the mental health of their children if they will be required to wear masks, or if schools shut down in-person learning again.

Bridget Farrell, a parent in the district, told school board members they were elected to “defend Bayfield values,” not those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or San Juan Basin Health Department.

Some parents, however, advocated for mask use. Some had children with medical conditions.

Jessica Ramirez said she uses a mask and appreciates that fact that her child can wear one in school.

“I don’t understand why we can’t have both,” she said, asking that families who want students to wear them be taught in a separate cohort in school.

Becky Talbot, a teacher and parent in the district, said cohorting was difficult last year, adding that many children in cohorts played with other classmates during recess.

She also asked that parents keep their children at home if they are sick.

She has students wash hands and use sanitizer throughout the day.

“We’re doing our best,” she said. But with a shortage of substitute teachers in the district, it’s hard for teachers to call in sick, she added.

Debbie Wilhelm, a school board member, said the district is trying to balance the needs of wanting classrooms to remain open and stopping the transmission of the virus.

“This COVID era has been a struggle for everyone,” Wilhelm said. “But at the end of the day, we are Bayfield, and it’s important that we all remember that. I would really like to get back to focusing on education and the future of our students.”

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