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Douglas County schools parents confused on how to submit mask exemptions

Posted at 4:36 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 20:24:22-04

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Monday got off to a rough start for some parents hoping to get their kids exempt from wearing masks in Douglas County schools.

"There was nothing really from the district that said who to hand it to and when to hand it in," said Molly Favero, a parent.

A new public health order from the county's newly-founded board of health went into effect Saturday.

It gives students, teachers and staff permission to skip the masks as long as they submit a letter indicating how it's affecting their mental or physical health. Douglas County commissioners said the opt-out option is available under the public health order even if there's a mask requirement in place.

Favero says wearing a mask gives her first-grader at Pine Grove Elementary anxiety.

"I know that's the thing... Did she really have anxiety? She did," she said. "Like, she wasn't sleeping. And so I'm like, 'Why are we going through this?'"

She got a medical exemption, but she came to school Monday morning with a new, county-approved exemption letter in hand. She says she used the same language as the sample letter in the public health order:

I _________________, the parent of _________________, have made the determination that the wearing of a facial covering results in a net negative impact on the physical and/or mental health of my child and therefore claim an exemption for my child to any requirement to wear a face covering.

Her only problem was she wasn't sure who to submit it to, and she wasn't alone. She eventually submitted the letter to a teacher collecting them at the entrance of the school.

"There were multiple moms carrying letters and they were like, 'What do we do? Do we walk them in? Do we hand them in their backpacks? Are they for the teachers?' And it was kind of unclear what to do with them in the school," Favero said.

Administrators with Rock Canyon High School sent parents an email Monday asking them to submit the exemption requests online, as opposed to doing so in person, to make it easier for staff.

"Because requests have already been sent to various staff members, we kindly request that EVERYONE FILL OUT THIS FORM, even if you have submitted one already in person or via email to someone at RCHS. This will help us aggregate all requests in one place. We apologize for the duplication of work, but the form is very short. Please submit one request per student," the school said in the email.

In its two separate emails to parents this weekend, Douglas County School District had no mention of what to do with the letters, only that "parents and guardians may submit their written exemption requests directly to their school."

But the confusion doesn't end there.

"We have received a few. We're still waiting to see if we can accept those or not," said Nicole Bostel, director of communications for STEM School Highlands Ranch.

The school's administration sent families an email this weekend asking them to give the charter school more time to process the information contained in the new public health order.

"We felt like we just did not have enough time to discuss anything with teachers. We weren't given deadlines. We weren't given any type of direction as to how to implement anything," Bostel said.

There have also been mixed messages to the school as to whether it still follows Tri-County Health Department's rules.

"We have heard Tri-County has said to some parents, 'We're not overseeing you anymore,' but then the officials within Tri-County that we work with say, 'No, you're still under us through the rest of this year,'" Bostel said.

The school hopes to have everything figured out after the end of fall break, which begins next week.

Parents should consider contacting their school's administration to determine the best way to submit an exemption letter.