RE1J mask mandate continues

Parents show support for district

[ By Kendra Walker ]

Contentious topics spanning from Critical Race Theory to school staffing shortages were the focus of the November 8 Gunnison Watershed School District board meeting, and many community members showed up to express their support for the district, superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols and the school board as they face a lawsuit against the district’s current mask mandate.

In a five-hour meeting attended by approximately 170 people in-person, and another 275 over Zoom, Nichols shared an update on the lawsuit, mask mandate and COVID numbers.

As part of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have filed a temporary restraining order to remove the mask mandate while further court proceedings occur.

On Tuesday, the district received word that Judge Steven Patrick had denied the temporary restraining order (see page 1). In an email to district staff, Nichols shared that the current mask mandate will stay in place under the district’s Risk Reduction Toolkit.
Nichols shared with the board the district’s latest COVID-19 positive case numbers. “This last week we still had five positives in the district, including two staff. That follows a week with six positives and before that five,” she said. “Testing and contact tracing remain strong and productive.”

Nichols was also pleased to announce that the district’s first pediatric vaccine clinics have started, and the next one will take place on Thursday, November 18 at Crested Butte Community School.

Nichols noted that the mask mandate exit strategy is close to being finalized but not quite ready to share. “I don’t say this to complain,” she said, “but my capacity is limited and the very important work on educational equity and the important work on maintaining the integrity of the schools in a lawsuit…are very time consuming. While I wish I had an exit strategy to share tonight, it is not ready because I haven’t had time.”

“I continue to encourage an exit strategy for the mask mandate,” said board treasurer Dave Taylor. “Our high school students have the ability to be vaccinated, they have had a long time to access the vaccines. It does not appear as if mask efficacy at the high school is at the standards necessary to prevent spread of COVID. Our first look needs to be at the high schools to remove the mask mandate.”

During public comment, many voiced their support for Nichols and the district’s mask mandate, including sixth grader Arabella Hasz.

“I feel like we should wear masks because we’ve been wearing them for a year and a half,” she said. “We will be done with masks in a few months. Can we just hold on for a little bit longer? We went though a whole school year without complaints about the mask mandate.”

Sarah Stubbe noted that a parent support petition has gathered 746 signatures and has raised $600 for the school district.
This lawsuit is not against the district, it is directly against the children,” said Robby Woltrane. “It’s pulling funding from the children.”

“This is not the place to play partisan games with our kids,” said Kristi Hargrove. “We were open last year all the way from August to June. We made good decisions and we made them based on science, we made them based on our community and I’m very frustrated at the moment that a national dialogue is impeding our local control of our district.”

“If a family has a problem with the mask mandate, the school district already offers a quality virtual option where that child could attend without a mask,” said Cassia Cadenhead, who enrolled her daughter in the Pathways program last year.

“We need to be focusing on kids, on funding our education, and the lawsuit is opposite of that,” said Laura Puckett Daniels. “A lawsuit takes away time, energy, human resources and money, and if you really care about kids and you really care about education and you really care about this country, a lawsuit is not the way to go. You can’t talk with one side of your mouth about wanting conflict resolution to be taught in our schools and then threaten a bunch of lawsuits. That is not how we resolve conflict. We need to be talking to each other in the way we are tonight. We need to drop the lawsuit so we can get back to educating our kids.”

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