After hours of deliberation in executive session Wednesday evening, members of the Douglas County Board of Health opted to delay until Friday any decision on withdrawing an Oct. 8 public health order that allows parents to opt out of county school district mask mandates for their children.
Some members of the board had to leave the meeting and there was no longer a quorum.
The decision also delays the fate of a lawsuit brought against the board by the school district and some parents of children with underlying medical issues.
A judge placed a temporary restraining order on the board's public health order Oct. 26, keeping district mask mandates in effect. The order was extended Monday but could have been dropped if the board withdrew its health order.
Wednesday's meeting is the latest chapter in a months-long saga that split apart Colorado's largest public health department and pitted the county's new health leadership against its school district. In August, the Tri-County Health Department adopted a mask policy for younger students and the staff that worked with them. The Douglas County Commission then voted to opt out of that policy; but the county's school district then decided to keep the policy in place.
After further back and forth between the county, the district and Tri-County, the commission decided to leave the health department altogether and form its own agency. The new Board of Health then moved in early October to hollow out the district's policy, giving parents and staff the ability to opt out of the orders. The district responded by suing the health department and its board, alleging the new order violated the civil rights of medically at-risk and disadvantaged students.
During Wednesday's session, a parent noted that the lawsuit didn't just come from the district but from nine parents of children with underlying issues.
"These are real parents, real kids and real concerns," she said.
In court filings earlier this month, the county's private attorneys indicated the health order was "highly likely" to be withdrawn by the health board this week. But the lawyers made reference to the imminent seating of four new school board members - constituting a new majority on the board - all of whom oppose mask mandates. That likely means the conversation about masking in Douglas County is far from finished.
Amid the scuffle, Adams County also chose to leave Tri-County, effectively breaking apart the agency. While Douglas County was frustrated with mitigation orders, Adams County leaders expressed frustration with the diverging agendas of the three counties - which includes Arapahoe - under the agency's umbrella. Eva Henry, the board chair of the Adams County Commission, said she had wanted to leave the department for some time because of political differences and that Douglas County's decision was a chance to more thoroughly re-evaluate the situation.