Lindsay Datko, an organizer with Jeffco Unites Kids First, appeared on KNUS’ Steffan Tubbs Show yesterday to promote today’s protest against new mask mandates in Jefferson County and all Colorado schools, based on guidance issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) last week.

“We have been working together since July of 2020 — last year — to ensure that parents have the choice to send their kids to school uninterrupted, to choose what is best for their child, at this moment in time, regarding the layered safety mitigations that have been required and enforced by Jefferson County Public Health and Jeffco Public Schools,” explained Datko. “We do want to make it clear that we’re more than just a group fighting for freedom of choice. The underlying motivation for us is to remove the very real harm being done to our children and help return them to normalcy.”

The CDPHE guidance allows local districts to determine which measures to restrict the spread of COVID are most appropriate for that locale’s conditions, and recommends best practices around social distancing, wearing masks, ventilation of indoor spaces, ventilation, testing for the virus, cohorting, symptom screening, cleaning, disinfecting, and handwashing.

When asked to describe the harm allegedly being inflicted on children by safety mitigations such as wearing masks in the classroom, Datko — a former educator in Denver Public Schools — cited a constructivist model of pedagogy which asserts that there are age-correlated and progressive windows of opportunity in a child’s cognitive development. According to this theory, missing core stages of development during the appropriate age window can negatively impact a child’s ongoing intellectual development.

“We can no longer mistake the obedience of childhood for resiliency,” explained Datko. “And we’re here to step in and remove their burdens and the very unproductive sacrifice that they have ve been asked to give for vaccinated adults, and return them to normalcy. As one example, there are developmental windows that cannot be missed. They’re developing speech and language and hundreds of decoding skills which require them to form sounds that many little ones haven’t even perfected by first grade. They’re learning fluency by reading passages over and over. They’re exercising muscles in their mouths. They’re working their entire brain power to process the science of reading. And masks absolutely, unequivocally, fatigue and hinder this process. And I can tell you that without any hesitation, as I have been working with Jeffco children to repair the effects of what has happened to them, now going into a third impacted academic year.”

Datko provided an anecdote illustrating the impact of face masks in a learning environment.

She cited an unnamed Title I math teacher who made the following observation: “Did the students complain? No, they refused to speak. They became distant and withdrawn.”

According to Datko, that same math teacher also complained that she “couldn’t hear or understand her students,” and her students “couldn’t communicate or read facial expressions. They hid behind their masks. [Their masks] contributed to their fatigue, their short tempers. She said she took hers off during her planning period, but they were never allowed [to take theirs off.] and it basically made for a miserable experience.”

“[Students] have been paying the biggest price for a virus that impacts them the least,” Datko said, “and this will be going on for now a third impacted academic year as they develop and grow and those windows of development close. And it’s unacceptable, to say the least.”

Despite her assertions of the universally prejudicial impacts of children wearing masks at school and her aim to “remove the very real harm being done to children,” Datko emphasizes that her group has not advocated for removing anyone else’s choice regarding whether to adhere to public health recommendations.

“We care about all Jeffco children and we honor the choices of their parents regarding their children’s bodies and their mental health and the way that they attend school this year,” said Datko. “So, we find great power in that — to ask for choice and not remove others’ [choices].”

Jefferson County School District has announced its rules for the upcoming fall semester. Children under twelve years of age will be required to wear masks, while older students and staff with full vaccination are recommended to use masks, and unvaccinated staff must wear masks inside. Visitors must wear a mask at all times.

Other districts have stricter guidelines. Denver Public Schools, for example, requires masks on all students, staff, and visitors whenever indoors and regardless of their vaccination status.

Datko encouraged families from all Colorado districts to attend today’s protest, “because we know that districts have a trickle effect and as we stand together we can show a united voice here across these metro districts and fight together for the choice.”

This morning’s protest was attended by an estimated 500-800 attendees carrying signs and chanting slogans in unison.

The chants included “We will not comply!” “Our bodies, our choice!” “Kids come first!” “Freedom not force!” “You work for us!” “Educate, don’t suffocate!” “Mental health matters!” “Call your Rep!” and “We won’t stop!”

Many signs at today’s protest had anti-vaccination messaging, although the issue of COVID vaccines was not a focus for organizers.

The Facebook page for Jeffco Unites Kids First was initially launched one year ago as “Jeffco: Choice for In-Person Learning.” The group changed it’s name and adopted its current FB entity on April 5 of this year. At today’s protest, one speaker called for a show of hands to survey how many families would choose to pull their students from Jeffco schools if they were required to wear masks. The crowd responded with raised hands and cheers.

Photos from the protest at the Jefferson County Health Department this morning: