Aspen School District ditching quarantines, still deciding on mask policy
Vaccines encouraged but not required, superintendent said
Aspen School District will not mandate vaccines for students and does not plan on implementing quarantines but is still evaluating mask policies for the 2021-22 school year, Superintendent David Baugh confirmed this week.
“We’re getting a lot of questions about coming back to school, which really translates to, ‘What’s school going to look like?’ Well, school is going to look like school. We’re going to be back in person — we’re excited about that,” Baugh said during a midsummer update video on Monday.
Though students won’t be required to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, the district does expect all staff to get the jab and hopes all students who are able will also opt to get vaccinated, Baugh said.
“We hope everybody who can get a vaccine got a vaccine,” he said. “The science is overwhelmingly clear that even with the variants, the vaccines are a huge help.”
That said, the district does not have stats on how many teachers, staff and students are vaccinated, Baugh wrote in an email Thursday.
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“We assume most of our staff are vaccinated (why wouldn’t you be — that research is most compelling) but we do not have that data as it is protected information,” he wrote.
As for mask policies in Aspen public schools, Baugh said in the video that the district expects to release additional guidance in early August.
That announcement was shared just one day before the state issued its recommendation — but no requirement — for in-school masking for unvaccinated individuals, which includes all students under the age of 12.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s recommendation released Tuesday aligns with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued earlier this month with mask recommendations for unvaccinated people. The American Academy of Pediatrics erred more cautiously with an in-school mask recommendation for all individuals over the age of 2 — vaccinated and unvaccinated alike — in its guidance released July 19.
The state said districts can choose to implement stricter masking policies, but Aspen administrators have yet to make that call. Baugh said Thursday that the district plans to hold tight until early August in case guidance changes as some schools reopen.
“We are still not one hundred percent sure about masks, so we are holding for the time being there. We do know that for the most part kids had no trouble with masks — obviously some kids had trouble but for the most part they wore masks and wore them well,” he wrote. ”We also saw decreases as a nation in transmissible disease last year from the social distancing, mask wearing and constant hand washing so the masks aren’t all bad as part of an overall strategy.”
The state public health department also will not require quarantining for “routine” COVID-19 exposure in the classroom.
There are some exceptions, including “higher risk exposures” like singing and contact sports and high community transmission rates that could prompt quarantines.
But overall, it will mean more students can spend more time learning in person rather than online — a big change after last school year’s waves of quarantines that at times counted several classrooms and more than 100 students at home after exposure to the virus.
That’s good news to the district, which does not plan to implement quarantines in the fall.
“We do not believe that quarantining was helpful — in fact there was so much quarantining with so little transmission that we believe quarantining was counterproductive and therefore, we do not plan on quarantining,” Baugh wrote. “Pitkin County Health has reserved the right to implement quarantines but we will not be doing that unless directed to do so.”
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As a mask mandate is reinstated in Pitkin County, Aspen’s elected officials signal the importance of what wearing a facial covering means.