For the first time since the Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education instituted a mask requirement for some students in late August, the board and district officials heard from members of the public.
The dozen speakers who addressed the board for nearly an hour Monday evening were as united in their resentment and anger over the mandate for pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students, staff and visitors at all non-charter school buildings as the board was in approving it during a special meeting in late August.
The board does not take public comment during special meetings.
A couple speakers spoke with raised voices during their allotted two minutes before a standing-room only crowd in the district administration building in downtown Greeley. District 6 director of security and Greeley Mayor John Gates said there were 71 people in the board room and five others in an overflow area near the lobby.
Northridge High School senior Wiley Dickinson told the board he’s been “persecuted” because of his belief in not wearing a mask. Dickinson said multiple teachers and administrators surrounded him, even though he didn’t try to make a scene or cause any trouble when he arrived at school.
“They refused to let me pursue my education any further that day, and honestly, it’s sickening,” Dickinson said. “I just want to go there and learn and people have actively prevented me from doing so. I showed up to class and they refused my education, and I want change.”
Dickinson said he was threatened with arrest by assistant director of security Steve Brown, which the district said did not happen because Brown does not have the authority to arrest.
Northridge students and staff have been wearing masks for the past week because of a rise in COVID-19 cases. The district said as of Sept. 7 the school had 25 positive cases and 39 positive cases since the school year started Aug. 12.
The are 11 cases at Northridge as of Tuesday: eight students and three staff.
The Colorado Department Health and Environment updated and clarified school guidance on masks, ventilation and quarantines on Sept. 10. The department said it recommends local public health agencies and school districts implement mask requirements for all individuals entering K-12 schools in the state — including students, staff, teachers and visitors regardless of vaccination status or level of community transmission.
“This is especially important in settings where vaccination rates are low and where many students are not yet eligible for vaccination,” the CDPHE said. “Even when not required by local public health or a school district, staff and students may choose to wear masks. Schools and school districts should ensure that every classroom is a welcome environment for students and staff who choose to protect themselves in this manner.”
No public health orders are in place in Weld County. Public health orders are in place in 19 Colorado counties including Larimer, Boulder, Broomfield and Adams that all border Weld.
The population of Weld County residents age 16 and older who are fully vaccinated is 57.9%, or 144,704 people, according to the county COVID-19 dashboard. The population of residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated is 56.4%, or 151,711.
The Sept. 10 CDPHE guidance says one of the community-level metrics that previously recommended quarantine for exposed students could be avoided if county vaccination rates were higher than 70%. Another metric relating to school level vaccination rates was increased from 70% to 80%, according to the updated guidance.
“If at least 80% of individuals age 12 and older within a school community have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, no one, including unvaccinated individuals, needs to quarantine following a typical classroom exposure to a case,” according to the CDPHE. “In areas with low vaccination rates and high case rates, schools must work with their local public health agency to determine quarantine requirements when cases of COVID-19 are identified.”
A group of Northridge students and parents protested the temporary masking policy on Sept. 7. The mask requirement will be in effect for 28 total days, including weekends, from Sept. 6. The 28-day timeframe was established by the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment to allow for two full quarantine cycles that are each approximately 14 days, according to District 6 spokesperson Theresa Myers.
Board of education president Michael Mathews said Monday night he understands masks are a “contentious issue” in schools and communities nationwide. Mathews said he wasn’t surprised by the strong, and at times angry, feelings directed toward the board.
“It was the first chance for the public to respond (to the PK-8 mask mandate),” Mathews said. “It wasn’t unexpected by us. We get roughly the same amount of emails from the other side.” ”
The Sept. 10 CDPHE guidance continues to recommend that vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine following an exposure. Unvaccinated students can also avoid quarantine following a typical classroom exposure if both the infected individual and the exposed student were correctly wearing masks, or participating in weekly screening testing.
The Delta variant spreads very easily and is more than two times as contagious as previous variants, according to the CDC.
“Children are also being admitted to hospitals at an increased rate as Delta has become the most common variant in the U.S., especially in communities with low vaccination rates,” according to the CDC. “Vaccinated people can be infected and spread COVID-19 to others, known as ‘breakthrough infections,’ but are much less likely to become seriously ill if this happens. However, unvaccinated adults at all ages are much more likely to spread COVID-19 and to be seriously ill and hospitalized than people who are vaccinated. It helps unvaccinated children to have high vaccination coverage among people around them as much as possible.”
Mathews said there were 173 positive cases in the district on Aug. 27 when the board announced the PK-8 mask requirement. The mandate took effect on Aug. 30. Mathews said as of Monday there were 193 positive cases, but only 89 students and 11 staff in quarantine compared with nearly 750 quarantined students at the time of the requirement.
District 6 students and staff who are not vaccinated but who properly wear masks while indoors will not be required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.
“We have roughly the same number of cases from a few weeks ago and we’ve reduced the quarantines dramatically,” Mathews said. “We’re able to keep kids in school, which is essential after the year we had last year.”
Greeley pastor Steven Grant and Stephen Kintzley invoked God and the Bible while telling the school district and board of education that COVID-19 is nothing to fear.
Kintzley, a senior military instructor teacher at Northridge and the parent of two students, asked the board if the number 365 meant anything to them. Kintzley told the board 365 is the number of times fear not or be not afraid appears in the Bible.
“We’re pushing fear,” Kintzley said. “It’s preached week after week on Sundays: faith. Faith in God and that’s on Sundays. Then Monday through Saturday it’s faith in bureaucrats. There has been nothing but fear pushed on the staff. I sit in on the meetings, I know.”
Kintzley said it has not been pushed that no one 0-19 years old has died from COVID-19 in Weld County. One-hundred seven county residents in that age group have been admitted to the hospital, which is 4% of the county total.
Grant, a District 6 resident and pastor at Destiny Christian Center on 10th Avenue, said masks are a violation of civil rights and is a representation of tyranny in the Bible.
“According to sincerely held Christian beliefs, masks represent deception, submission and tyranny in the Bible and there are many who adhere to this,” Grant said, adding anyone who has a sincerely held religious belief should be exempt from wearing a mask.
Grant also objected to District 6 working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week to host a mobile vaccine clinic at Greeley Central High School. He said there are “implications” for what District 6 is doing with vaccine buses and the clinics and warned the district to be aware.
“I would urge you to recant your decision on masks and allow the Christian virtue of liberty to reign, instead of what you are doing right now,” Grant said. “This is wrong. This is unbiblical and it is against people’s religious beliefs.”