A crowd fills the Douglas County Board of Commissioners hearing room on Aug. 19, 2021. (Jessica Gibbs, CCM)

Following a nearly four-hour meeting that featured dozens of public speakers, Douglas County voted to opt out of the latest public health order from Tri-County Health Department requiring that students wear masks at schools as a COVID-19 safety measure.

The move came two days after Douglas County School District leaders said they will require all students in preschool through sixth grade to wear masks when inside school buildings.

The three county commissioners unanimously approved an opt-out resolution during the Thursday special business meeting.

“By opting out of this public health order, we will be securing the blessings of liberty,” Commissioner George Teal said during the meeting.

The public health order from Tri-County Health, which provides public health services in Douglas, Adams and Arapahoe counties, was approved Tuesday. It  ordered that students in those counties ages 2 to 11 — and staff members who work with them — wear masks inside school.

Following a fall 2020 negotiation with Douglas County, Tri-County’s public health orders, including this one, provide an option for counties to opt out. 

For this order involving students, if a county opts out, it is then up to each school district and individual schools to decide if they will follow the public health order, according to Tri-County.

In Douglas County, public schools are run by an elected school board independent of county government.

An attorney representing the county said during the meeting that his interpretation of the order was that if the county chooses to opt out, no public health order will exist to be enforced in the county.

But Douglas County School District Superintendent Corey Wise has said the district must follow the health order, regardless of whether commissioners opt out.

Read more at coloradocommunitymedia.com.

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her reporting and photography. Elliott graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in editorial journalism and minors in both business and Spanish. She is also an avid rock climber, snowboarder and hiker. Twitter: @ElliottWenzler