About 300 parents — many with kids in tow — spent Wednesday morning protesting Jeffco Public Schools’ decision to require students ages 3 to 11 to wear masks in classrooms to start the upcoming school year.
Standing outside of the Jefferson County Public Health headquarters in Lakewood, parents chanted “my body, my choice” and held signs decrying last week’s decision by the state’s second-largest school district.
Beth Parker, who recently moved from Golden to Douglas County partly because of the latter county’s less restrictive COVID-19 rules, said she believes the science is clear that young people are far less susceptible to the virus than their parents and grandparents.
Data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows less than 3.5% of all COVID hospitalizations have occurred among people 19 and younger since the pandemic started, and just a quarter of 1% of all COVID deaths have occurred in that age cohort.
“The huge difference is that high-risk people have the choice to get vaccinated,” Parker said. “We need to stop asking kids to sacrifice for adults.”
Last week, the Jefferson County school district said in a news release that it was requiring masks for children up to 11 years of age because that age group is not yet eligible for the vaccine. It also said county public health officials made it clear that they would be enforcing quarantine guidelines when school starts Aug. 17 and the district wants to avoid as much disruption from kids who become exposed to the virus.
But many parents at the rally said masks have a detrimental effect on young children’s ability to learn by stopping their ability to see critical visual facial cues when interacting with others.
Seventy-five percent of eligible adults have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine in Jefferson County while another 50,000 residents have had COVID, providing them with some level of immunity, according to state health data.
The question over whether students should have to wear masks has intensified in the last week as metro Denver school districts rolled out their COVID policies. Several districts, like Littleton and Aurora, are not mandating masks for students but encouraging their use, especially for the unvaccinated.
Along those lines, Cherry Creek School District said Wednesday morning that masks are “strongly encouraged” for students and staff, but that the decision will be left up to families.
Jefferson County Schools is recommending masks for students 12 and older who are vaccinated and strongly recommending masks use for unvaccinated students in that age group. Teachers and staff who are unvaccinated must wear a mask inside, and visitors are required to no matter the vaccination status.
On Tuesday, Denver Public Schools went a step further than Jefferson County by requiring all students, teachers and staff to start the school year with face coverings.
For the week ending Sunday, Colorado saw its largest number of coronavirus infections since mid-May, as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread across the state.