Eagle County Law Enforcement Reporting To Schools Monday To Prevent Conflict Over Mask Mandate

Jenny Brundin/CPR News
The kids return from recess, which doesn’t look like it used to. Nevertheless, the students say they are happy to be back. “I kind of missed being here. I missed my friends and my teacher,” says one. Josephine Hodgkins Leadership Academy in Westminster Public Schools.

Updated Monday at 1:21 p.m.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said students' first day back at school went smoothly Monday. Arguments regarding the school district’s new mask mandate were mainly confined to a small protest and counter-protest of less than 50 people at a park near Eagle Valley High School.

“Most of the parents and community members, staff and students were grateful we were there. Lots of ‘thank you's’, so everything went really well,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Amber Barrett said. She added deputies will be stationed at Eagle County schools for at least the rest of the week. 

Tension over mask mandates for elementary and middle schoolers in Eagle County schools led to sheriff’s deputies being stationed at the schools for the first day.

Law enforcement officials said officers were present to make sure classes and students aren’t disrupted by potential protests. They were not there to enforce mask rules. 

“Our goal is the same as yours, getting our children back to school safely” a sheriff’s statement said.  “Law enforcement is requesting that persons who are wishing to express their opinions, not interfere or interrupt the freedom of movement and the functions of the schools.”

Eagle County Public Health issued an order last week mandating students in schools with “large numbers of youth that are not yet eligible for vaccination” to mask up. 

Health officials said the order will slow the spread of the delta variant, which has caused a new wave of cases and hospitalizations across the state, primarily among unvaccinated populations. 

According to the health department, the mask mandate will be relaxed if an entire school reaches an 80 percent vaccination rate or the seven-day incidence rate for Eagle County drops to below 50 per 100,000. 

As the rise of the delta variant coincides with the start of school, several other Colorado districts, including Cherry Creek and Denver Public Schools, have reintroduced mask requirements. In Jefferson County, schools have mandated masks for younger students — those too young to get vaccinated. That move prompted protests earlier this month.

Safety measures vary at schools across the state, with no centralized order coming from the Polis administration. Experts say outbreaks at schools are inevitable, but vaccinations and mask mandates are sure ways to slow them.