Douglas County Board of Health removes school district from mask exemption order

The Douglas County Board of Health on Friday unanimously approved a motion to revise a public health order allowing exemption from facial coverings, affirming that the order does not apply to the Douglas County School District.

On Oct. 8, the newly formed Douglas County Health Department, in its first public order, declared that students, teachers and staff members of the 64,000-student Douglas County School District would not have to wear face masks. But the health department’s mask and quarantining order is currently blocked by a federal judge after the Douglas County School District, along with the parents of nine students with disabilities, filed a lawsuit against the county health department on Oct. 20.

“The amended order preserves most of the original public health order — with the exception that the Board of Health cannot enforce the public health order against the Douglas County School District, therefore it does not apply to schools or other educational facilities that are owned, operated, or controlled by the Douglas County School District,” the health board said in a statement Friday.

The revisions approved Friday are an attempt to appease the ruling of U.S. District Judge John L. Kane, who issued a temporary restraining order against the health board Oct. 26. Kane viewed Douglas County’s public health order as a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“I find the risk of irreparable harm to plaintiffs is significant and they have sufficiently demonstrated that the public health order denies student plaintiffs reasonable accommodations in the form of science-backed masking and quarantine requirements,” he read from the restraining order.

The Douglas County Health Department order also makes it impermissible, in most cases, to quarantine an individual in the county because of “actual, suspected or potential exposure related to COVID-19 if the individual is asymptomatic.”

A hearing in federal court before Kane is scheduled Monday.

“We amended our order to reflect what the judge has already decided and have removed enforcement of this order on the Douglas County School District,” the health board said in a statement. “We believe this is the most prudent decision at this time as it will: 1) stop the clock on potential litigation costs associated with defending the order; 2) allow the new school board to come into office with maximum flexibility as they determine the path forward to provide proper protections provided under state and federal law for all students and all teachers.”

A newly elected school board is less than three weeks away from taking over the 64,000-student Douglas County School District. The Nov. 2 election was won by a slate of four conservative candidates who oppose mask mandates, and they will be the majority on the seven-member board.

The county health department formed after splitting from the Tri-County Health Department, which it was a member of since 1966. Tri-County had imposed a mask mandate for all students on Sept. 1 in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties.

“The Board of Health looks forward to meeting with the newly constituted Board of Education to discuss the best path forward and then move forward as a unified County,” the board of health said Friday.

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