Judge: Colorado parents can’t exempt kids from school masks

Colorado News

DENVER (AP) — A federal judge has issued a restraining order against a suburban Denver county’s policy allowing parents to opt their children out of a mask mandate at school, finding that the rule violates the rights of students with disabilities who are vulnerable to COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge John L. Kane on Tuesday called the Douglas County Board of Health order that allowed parents to opt their children out of mask-wearing a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which guarantees equal access to education for all.

Kane’s order came in a hearing about a lawsuit filed by the Douglas County School District challenging the county Board of Health order.

The school district, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of nine children with disabilities, argued that the Board of Health’s action allowed a relaxation of universal masking that placed those students at high risk of severe disease, The Denver Post reported.

The school district also challenged the Board of Health’s relaxation of quarantine rules affecting students suspected of having the coronavirus.

Kane’s order is not the end of the legal challenge even though it sets aside the opt-out rule for now and he set a Nov. 8 hearing about the case.

The ruling came as states prepare for rollouts of the COVID-19 pediatric vaccines. Colorado’s health department has said it is working on an informational campaign with public health agencies, youth-focused groups, and school districts for parents and guardians.

State officials are recruiting new vaccine providers and hosting seminars with health officials to provide detailed information about the pediatric vaccine and best practices for vaccinating kids.

State officials also plan to promote new and existing clinics based at schools to encourage children and their family members to get vaccinated.

That’s in addition to places already administering vaccines, including pharmacies and family doctors. Child vaccination events are being planned for after-school hours, including weekends.

The federal government has allocated an initial 171,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine to Colorado, the state health department said.

State health officials told reporters Wednesday that Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, is expected to speak about the pediatric rollout plan later this week.

The state’s hospitals are experiencing the most severe strain on bed capacity so far in the pandemic, according to state health department incident commander, Scott Bookman. As of Tuesday, 1,187 COVID-19 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado.

Bookman said Colorado has the lowest number of available hospital beds in the state at any point in the pandemic.

When Colorado hit its previous peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations last December, the state had 1,800 hospital beds available. But even though the number of confirmed infections is below last year’s peak infection rate, the state’s 7-day average of acute care beds available stands at 959, Bookman said.

Colorado health officials reiterated recommendations for residents to get their annual influenza vaccinations and COVID-19 inoculations — and booster COVID-19 vaccine shots for high-risk groups to prevent added strain on hospital capacity.

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