HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (CBS4) – Parents at STEM School Highlands Ranch challenged the administration on Monday when they were initially told in the morning their students could not enter class without a mask. The Douglas County Health Department approved a new public order allowing families to receive exemptions from mask requirements on Friday for physical or mental health reasons.
“The teachers should not have any decision-making power over the health of our children,” said Amity Wicks, a parent of two students at the school. “This is an issue of about personal liberty, this is an issue about bodily autonomy, this is an issue about parental rights.”READ MORE: Latino Community Across Colorado Prepares To Celebrate Día De Los Muertos
Wicks was joined by another family when she spoke to school leaders, recording the meeting and sharing the video with CBS4. The three students were eventually allowed to start their day without masks, but administrators explained they hoped for more time to review the health order.
“What we’re asking of our families is to let us get through this week, right before fall break,” Nicole Bostel told CBS4 on Monday. Bostel is the director of communications for STEM School. “Allow us to survey our teachers, our students, our families, collect all that data so that when we come back from fall break, we’re all on the same page.”
Wick met with the high school director, the school’s compliance director, and the executive director of STEM School. She said the school previously followed other public health orders so she could not understand the delay with this new policy. The school said it was sorting out conflicting guidance, as it still believed it was under the jurisdiction of Tri-County Health. It also felt that a Friday afternoon decision would be difficult to implement over a weekend.
“It’s a lot to make that change from one day to the next,” Bostel said.
Douglas County School District issued guidance over the weekend explaining it would allow exemptions under the new public health order. Students at other schools said they barely noticed the change on campus.
“It was pretty much the same, it wasn’t too much of a difference, just some people didn’t have a mask on,” one student said off campus.READ MORE: 'Live Like Her': Sally Strelecki Taken Off Life Support After Bullet From Neighboring Apartment Kills Her
Other students said it did encourage more students to take off their mask, whether they filed an exemption or not. STEM School answers to its own advisory board as a charter school and can act independently from the district on some issues. Bostel said the school does follow the guidance of the school district the vast majority of the time.
“If you don’t get an exemption form, you don’t have to wear one, so I think everyone’s kind of just not wearing one,” another student said during their lunch away from school.
School leaders did send out a notice informing parents masks would still be required this week, explaining in part that the school dress code during the pandemic. Students will be off Friday for parent-teacher conferences so the school wanted four days with masks required before a full week off.
Teacher input was important to leaders as they have navigated constantly changing guidelines in their classrooms, including on masks just this school year.
“It’s difficult for us to make a quick change like this without having a lot of answers,” Bostel said.
Parents like Wick say their input should take priority and now the law is on their side. She did not accept the explanation about dress code either. A member of the Douglas County Board of Health told CBS4 on Monday they expected the new order to take effect immediately and if the entire school district could turnaround the policy over the weekend, STEM School should have been able to as well.MORE NEWS: Denver Is 3 Weeks Away From Nearly 70 Days With Sunsets Before 5 P.M.
“I want my kids to grow up knowing their parents fought for their liberty,” Wick said.