Harrison School District 2 students, left to right, Kyla Randle, Parker Layman and Laila Randle wear masks as they wait to enter Centennial Elementary School in Colorado Springs on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Amid a sharp increase in school outbreaks and COVID cases among children, Colorado’s state health department issued new guidance Friday that more forcefully recommends that schools require masks, even as Gov. Jared Polis made clear that he has no plans to make sure that they do.

“There are governors who have prohibited mask requirements in schools,” Polis said at a news conference. “Where we have come out is that you absolutely can wear a mask, even if you live in a district that doesn’t require it. It’s a decision that is a good decision, and one that students should make, particularly if they are unvaccinated.”

The governor’s remarks are in keeping with the local control approach the state has adopted this school year. In July, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment adopted federal guidance that recommended everyone wear masks in school settings regardless of vaccination status, but state health officials have not required any particular safety measures. Even quarantine procedures are left up to school districts and local health departments.

Most Colorado school districts started the school year with masks recommended but not required. A month into the school year, after heated public hearings and disruptive quarantines, the landscape has changed. Most Colorado students attend schools that require masks, either because a county health department requires it or the district changed its policy. However, a majority of districts still leave masking decisions up to individuals.

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Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat

Bureau Chief — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: emeltzer@chalkbeat.org