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Colorado deputies will be at Eagle County schools Monday in response to growing “tensions in the community” over the school district’s newly-announced coronavirus mask mandate.

Local law enforcement will be working closely with Eagle County Schools and community members “to ensure the safety of our children,” as students return to class Monday, Amber Barrett, a spokesperson for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in a news release.

“Our goal is the same as yours, getting our children back to school safely,” Barrett said. “Law Enforcement is requesting that persons who are wishing to express their opinions not interfere or interrupt the freedom of movement and the functions of schools.”

On Friday, the Eagle County School District announced that masks will be required for all students, teachers, staff, and visitors at the district’s elementary and middle schools when classes begin. The decision followed a meeting with Eagle County Public Health and other schools throughout the community. 

Superintendent Philip Qualman said the last-minute change was made because of rising cases of COVID-19 in the county, according to a release by the district. The mandate allows schools to maintain in-person instruction five days a week, the release added. 

“We said there were specific metrics we’d follow and when and if they changed, we would change our policies. Unfortunately, here we are,” Qualman said. “As has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic, this disease does not care about our schedules or when school starts. Nevertheless, we regret the short notice.”

Barrett told the Denver Post that deputies don’t plan on policing mask-wearing at the schools Monday and they will instead focus on making sure school business isn’t hindered. The sheriff’s office is aiming to have at least one deputy at most of the middle and elementary schools, she added.

“As long as they’re not interfering with the day-to-day activities with parents, teachers, and staff getting in and out of the building, as long as they’re not disrupting school functions, it shouldn’t be a big deal,” Barrett said. “People are allowed to voice their opinions. They just cannot be impeding traffic or the flow in and out of the school.”

Matthew Miano, a school district spokesman, noted that officials declined interviews Sunday with the hope of keeping “this issue apolitical and support the safety of our students and our staff.”

Eagle County Public Health expects to lift this order when “the incidence rate falls below 50 cases per 100,000 for seven consecutive days,” the release added. 

Eagle County is about 100 miles west of Denver. 

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