Denver Public Schools officially removed the mask mandate for students and staff.
On February 25th, 2022, Denver Public Schools (DPS) allowed their mask mandate, which requires all persons above the age of two to wear masks when indoors on school grounds, to expire. The removal of the mandate came after the Denver branch of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDHE) removed the mandate on DPS. This action allows students and faculty to choose whether or not they want to wear masks.
Due to cases of COVID-19 dropping rapidly, DPS was able to make this decision.After the peak of the Omicron variant wave last month, the CDHE reported case numbers lower than 1,000 infections per day for the first time since August 2021. After the city and county of Denver mask mandates were lifted, DPS decided that the best course of action would be to move to a mask-optional system. However, two months ago, there were walk-outs across the state as students left their classrooms and demanded better COVID-19 protocols, such as KN95 masks and free testing for all students. This shows how fast public opinion on COVID-19 safety measures can change.
Concerns have been raised over this ruling. DPS school board director Tay Anderson stated, “I still believe that out of an abundance of caution, our mask mandate should stay in place throughout the remainder of the semester.” Some people believe that DPS is overly optimistic about the falling case numbers. Others believe that this ruling is a political move rather than one that was made out of concern for student and faculty safety. A senior at Thomas Jefferson, Leanne (who requested her last name be omitted), stated that the mask mandate ending “makes it easier to interact with people. But besides that, I don’t really see any positives.” She continues, “People with autoimmune disorders and people that are really susceptible to getting Corona[virus] are at higher risk now.” There are also fears from multiple students that they will be judged from both sides of the debate, regardless of whether or not they chose to wear a mask.
However, many people believe that this ruling will bring back much-needed normalcy to DPS. A student at TJ who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “I’m super happy that the mask mandate is ending. I’m done with masks. I think that it’ll bring our school back together–being able to see each other’s faces. We’ve been apart for too long.” Assistant Principal Jon Poole said he is “a little bit conflicted [about the mandate ending] because safety wise I do have concerns for some staff members and students because they are immunocompromised. But honestly, I’m excited about interpersonal communication between students and staff.” The various perspectives on mask mandates between students and staff further show the growing divide between masking up or removing masks.
Monday, February 28th, marked the first day in almost two years that students returned back to classes the same way that they were left on March 13th, 2020. While it is too soon to say how this will impact case numbers, many are looking forward to a sense of normalcy in an increasingly unpredictable world. However, the mask divide paves fears for high-risk, immunocompromised students and staff.