COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After a contentious school board meeting on Monday, Aug. 30, in which dozens of parents decried Cheyenne Mountain School District 12’s mask mandate for everyone in school buildings, the district’s superintendent is defending the decision.
In Monday’s meeting, the district’s health advisory board laid out the decision-making process for the public health plan for the school year.
“We are now seeing an uptick with spread, we’re now seeing an uptick where quarantinings are increasing and we’re having a harder time keeping kids in the classroom in the Pikes Peak region and a harder time keeping classrooms open without going into a quarantine situation,” said Dr. David Peak, the superintendent for District 12. “I really hope that parents would recognize and understand that the main thrust of our decision making is to maximize in-person learning.”
Based off of CDC guidelines, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has laid out guidelines that are legally binding during a pandemic of an infectious virus.
In it, CDPHE identifies the criteria for “high risk” environment and “high risk” exposures that lead to the necessity to quarantine students and classrooms. If a student with COVID is found to be in a classroom or area with other students, all students would need to quarantine under the guidelines unless the exposed population as a vaccination rate over 70 percent, antigen tests detect antibodies in more than 70 percent of exposed students, or if all students are wearing a mask.
Masks, members of the medical advisory board say, are the easiest to enforce.
“No matter what you believe about the science of COVID or what you believe about the science of masks, the bottom line is that there are specific parameters that allow us to minimize quarantine and whether you think masks work or not, these are the hoops we can jump through,” Dr. Besty Kleiner, an infectious disease expert on District 12’s medical advisory board.
Betsy Kleiner is the infectious disease specialist for Centura Health’s Colorado Springs Hospitals and also works with the UCHealth system in addition to her role on the Board. She also has a 10 and 13-year-old in the district.
In Monday’s argument, she left the science out of the debate because “we can get into the science and I think the hard part is that flares a lot of tempers.”
So instead she tried to reason with parents over the guidelines the state put in place.
“This is not an ideal situation and we’re unfortunately in a situation where we don’t have any ideal solutions and we’re going to have to do some give and take,” Kleiner said.
Peak says the district is ultimately trying to keep as many kids in the classroom as possible.
“If we have all parties currently wearing a mask or facial covering, we believe we’re going to significantly reduce quarantines and also reduce the spread, but especially reduce the quarantines,” Peak said.
This is Peak’s first year at the helm of District 12. He worked in administration in Academy District 20 previously and was a classroom teacher in District 12 at the start of his career. District 12 are the schools he grew up in.
Peak says he’s spoken to numerous parents on the phone or through email that support the mask mandate, citing time taken off to work to look after a quarantined student and students’ missed social interactions.
For the parents that disagree with it, he “shares in that frustration” and says he hopes that the desire to minimize quarantines and maximize time in the classroom can be a common ground for all the parents to come together.
“There is a place for remote learning or online learning for some students, but for many that really detracts and minimizes and reduced the number of interactions and opportunities with teachers,” Peak said, “Not just from an academic lens, but from a mental health lens: Recognizing the importance of community and being together.”