DougCo School District, parents, sue county over new mask exemption for students

Coronavirus

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — About two weeks after Douglas County’s newly-formed board of health unanimously passed a public health order allowing parents to exempt their kids from wearing masks in schools, the school district and parents are now asking a court to block the order.

Parents of students joined in the lawsuit, claiming the Douglas County Board of Health’s new order violates the federal civil rights of students with disabilities. The goal is to revert the county back to the school district’s previous mask mandates, in line with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Tri-County Health guidelines.

The lawsuit states that the purpose is “protecting children from a raging pandemic and providing students with disabilities equal access to their public education.”

The lawsuit cites individual students in the district who are dealing with a range of developmental disorders from autism to down syndrome and cystic fibrosis, outlining how they are at higher risk if they contract COVID-19.

Douglas County parents respond

The Douglas County School District serves roughly 64,000 students, including thousands of students with disabilities and more than 700 students who have significant support needs.

“This is the first I’ve seen us do this,” said Douglas County School Board President David Ray, “which really says it’s a very serious concern for our kids.”

One of the children in the district is the daughter of Jennifer Alexander, who she said is epileptic.

“We’ve been told if she were to contract the COVID virus, particularly the delta variant, that we are looking at a high risk of severe neurological complications,” Alexander said.

The health order issued by the Douglas County Board of Health earlier this month is one that Ray said doesn’t work in an educational community.

“There’s, therefore, a more of a reliance, if you will, on their peers, to mask up and make sure there’s nothing being transmitted,” Ray said.

The Board of Health said the policy exempts parents of children with health issues or negative psychological impacts from wearing a mask.

Ray called that a health risk to a vulnerable group of students.

“This age group, from 2 through 11, is the one that has the most incidents when we compare it to other age groups,” Ray said.

Alexander said she is alright with just a mask mandate, calling it a step before other requirements.

“I’m not asking for a vaccine mandate, I’m asking for a cloth covering, worn over faces, while you’re indoors at school, and to me, that’s a minor price to pay,” Alexander said.

Ray told FOX31 there is room in their complaint for a compromise.

“That’s why we still have that medical exemption,” Ray said, “you talk with your pediatrician; you get your exemption, and we will honor that.”

How Douglas County officials are responding

The existing order states that “certain children shall be exempt from any requirement to wear a Face Covering within Douglas County, if that child’s parent/guardian presents to any person or entity charged with enforcing and/or supervising such a requirement to wear a Face Covering, a written declaration, signed by the parent or guardian of the child, requesting to be exempted from the requirement to wear a Face Covering due to the negative impact on that individual’s physical and/or mental health.”

The order also states “No child in Douglas County, regardless of age, shall be required to quarantine because of exposure to a known COVID-19 positive case unless the exposure is associated with a known Outbreak or otherwise required by superseding state or federal mandate.”

 The president of the DCBH, Doug Benevento, provided this statement:

We just received and are reviewing the lawsuit filed this morning by DCSD.  We are confident that our Order strikes the appropriate balance with respect to mask mandates in our schools. Our Order allows for masking but provides exemptions for parents with children that would be negatively impacted from a health or psychological standpoint from a blanket mask requirement. The pending lawsuit against the school district by an asthmatic student claiming they have violated the ADA demonstrates that a blanket mask mandate does not strike that balance. Our Order is also more proactive than any requirement the State of Colorado currently has in place.

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