A mask mandate that has been in place since August for Durango School District 9-R will be lifted beginning Monday.
The school board voted 5-0 Tuesday to lift the mandate after receiving an update about COVID-19 transmission numbers in schools and La Plata County. Board members also took into consideration survey results that asked parents, students and staff members for feedback about lifting the mask mandate.
“I’m excited to see a part of the pandemic floating away here,” said school board President Kristin Smith. “It gives me hope that we can really focus more on students and education.”
As part of its monthly COVID-19 update, board members were provided with guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that suggests it might be an appropriate time to move away from mandatory masking.
“I’m really grateful that things have shifted enough right now to make this decision per all the information we’ve gotten,” said school board Vice President Erika Brown. “I do feel comfortable that this is something we can do right now that is a safe way to move forward.”
During the public comment portion of the board meeting, seven parents asked the board to repeal masking policies. No parents spoke on behalf of keeping masks.
About five parents gathered in front of the 9-R Administration Building to protest the masking policies. They called on the board to not only lift mask policies, but also for the school board to return to in-person meetings.
Board members said the decision to hold a Zoom meeting Tuesday night was made because of an approaching snowstorm.
The mask mandate, which was adopted as part of a revision to the dress code, has been a point of contention for months. Some parents felt strongly that wearing masks should be a personal choice and not a districtwide requirement. Others said the district was doing the right thing by acting in accordance with public health guidance.
The survey itself showed a split among stakeholders, with many saying the mask policy should be dropped immediately and others who gave varying dates or circumstances in which the policy should be dropped.
The district conducted two surveys after it was learned the first survey was insecure, which made it possible for people to vote multiple times or share the survey link so others not affiliated with the school district could vote.
The most recent survey showed more than 40% of students and parents wanted COVID-19 mask mandates dropped immediately, while only 35% of staff members felt the same way, according to results released Monday night.
But the majority of survey respondents gave mixed answers about when mask mandates should be lifted, including at the end of February, at the end of the school year or whenever transmission rates fall below 100 cases per 100,000 people.
More than 2,000 stakeholders participated in the second survey.
The second survey was issued Friday and closed at 5 p.m. Monday. Some parents and guardians complained they did not receive an invitation to participate.
Superintendent Karen Cheser said that is largely because only one survey was sent to whichever email address was designated as the primary contact for a parent or guardian of students.
“We have to send out the exact same number of emails to each household, so that means one,” she said.
School board members acknowledged Tuesday night the surveys weren’t handled perfectly, and vowed to do better in the future.