Peakview School, shown here in a March 23, 2021 photo, is a Preschool through Eighth grade school in Walsenburg, Colo. According to the schoolÕs website, enrollment is approximately at 330.(Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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When students returned to school in the Greeley-Evans district north of Denver, masks were recommended — but not required — for unvaccinated students and staff.

That made the district typical in Colorado, where the state neither banned mask mandates nor issued its own requirement. Instead, the state left the decision up to local school districts and public health agencies, most of which in turn left the decision up to individuals.

“I was hopeful,” said Terri Pappas, a Greeley-Evans school board member, about the start of the school year. “We were imploring our school community to wear masks. It became pretty evident that wasn’t happening.”

Cases rose — and so did quarantines. “We were having a big impact on our families,” Pappas said. “We have a lot of families who work and cannot pivot to remote learning very easily.”

A month into the school year, Greeley-Evans is one of a growing number of Colorado districts operating under a mask mandate, either because the school district itself adopted one or a county health department imposed one. At least 78% of Colorado students in preschool through 12th grade now attend school under a mask mandate, including most students in 25 of the state’s 30 largest districts.

Decisions to put mask mandates in place came after a rapid rise in COVID cases among school-aged children, who currently have the highest rates of transmission in the state. School outbreaks doubled and then doubled again in the first weeks of the school year, and hundreds of students have been sent home to quarantine and learn remotely.