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Mountain Family administers over 900 COVID-19 vaccines in on-site vaccination tour through Roaring Fork schools

Second run to begin in early December

Mountain Family Health Centers Nurse Ashley Buckberg administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a Glenwood Springs Elementary School student at the school Nov. 29.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Mountain Family Health Centers data shows the group administered 925 COVID-19 vaccination doses across 12 Roaring Fork School District pop-up clinics in November.

Following FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11, the provider and district teamed up for a second tour for school community members, focusing on students and their families. First, second and booster doses were administered. A second round is planned for December, scheduled in line with the time second doses should be administered following the first round.

“Our goal is always just to increase access for families that choose to take advantage of it,” Roaring Fork School District Chief of Student and Family Services Anna Cole said. “We know that in a rural community, because of challenges of transportation and work schedules and knowing our families, especially our lower-income families, it’s super hard to get your kid an appointment to take care of routine medical care.”

According to the data released by Mountain Family, 383 of the doses were administered to children 5-11. The most common age of recipients was 8, with 65 receiving the vaccine.

“We realized how important it was, but we didn’t realize how many would be interested in it,” Mountain Family Health Centers Site Practice Director Storie Marchant said. “I think we’ve brought a lot of people out of the woodwork with it being approved for 5-11, because they’re like, ‘Wow, OK, kids are already getting their other vaccinations. So if they’re releasing this vaccine for kids that are 5-11, this is something we need to be doing, right?’”

The highest age indicated was a 93-year-old, given on Nov. 12, meaning it was given at either Glenwood Springs or Roaring Fork high schools. Among the shots given, 477 were given to patients above the age of 18, meaning the shot recipients were nearly 50% school aged, 50% above.

Only 18 of the shots administered overall were marked as second doses, and 453 were marked as boosters. That leaves 454 first doses administered across all ages.

The data, parsed by date given but not location, shows that 260 shots were administered on Nov. 19, where a morning clinic was held at Glenwood Springs Elementary School and an afternoon clinic was held at Crystal River Elementary School. On Nov. 16, 219 doses were administered between Riverview School and Basalt Elementary School. Marchant said that more than 200 of those shots were given in Basalt.

“It was phenomenal,” Marchant said. “They brought down big groups of classrooms with all of their consent forms, and we funneled all the kids in. … A lot of the kids were braver in front of their friends than when they have their mom or dad there saying, ‘You have to get it.’”

The tour came as new COVID-19 cases reached rates not seen since mid-January. The private K-8 Ross Montessori School in Carbondale is experiencing an outbreak that accumulated 61 positive cases by Nov. 17, the highest total from a single location in Garfield County since the pandemic began. According to the latest Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data, 50 of those positive cases are among students.

Signs at Glenwood Springs Elementary School directing visitors and students to Mountain Family Health Centers’ pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic Nov. 19.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Mountain Family will host a second round at each of the 12 schools in December three weeks after the initial in-school date in November. The three-week period is the suggested period between first and second doses.

Students 5 and older are eligible for the shots. Any student under the age of 18 must receive parental permission to get a vaccine shot at one of the pop-up clinics. Appointments or IDs are not required, and the shots are free of charge, funded by a grant.

The clinics are focused on students and their families but are open to the community on a case-by-case situation. Cole suggested reaching out to the individual school to see if they are allowing community members to receive their shots or reaching out to her directly at 970-384-6001 or acole@rfschools.com.

For upcoming clinic dates and more information, visit MountainFamily.org/school-vaccine-clinics/.

Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or rallen@postindependent.com.

What Glenwood Elementary students are thankful for this holiday season

Clockwise from top left, Glenwood Springs Elementary students Greidy Andrea, Joseph Garcia, Drayton Smalley and Dayri Quines.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

The Post Independent asked four Glenwood Springs Elementary School students what they’re looking forward to and thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Greidy Andrea

What are you excited about for Thanksgiving?

I’m excited that one of my friends I haven’t seen in a long time is coming. Her name is Eileen. She lives in New Castle. We always go to a store near us. We sometimes go to Culver’s to eat or sometimes just go to 7-Eleven to get some food. Sometimes we just like to play.

What are you thankful for this year?

I’m thankful for my family and friends.

Favorite Thanksgiving food:


Joseph Garcia

What are you excited about for Thanksgiving?

I’m going back to Las Vegas, my ex-home.

What are you thankful for this year?

For meeting my friends and family.

Favorite Thanksgiving food:

Mashed potatoes or turkey.

Dayri Quines

What are you excited about for Thanksgiving?

To hang out with my family and friends and play board games.

What are you thankful for this year?

A roof over my head, food and my family.

Favorite Thanksgiving food:


Drayton Smalley

What are you excited about for Thanksgiving?

For my cousin to come visit, because I haven’t seen her in a while.

What are you thankful for this year?

Everything I have.

Favorite Thanksgiving food:

Pumpkin pie.

Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or rallen@postindependent.com.

Glenwood Springs Elementary principal Hazleton to resign after accepting international leadership opportunity

Glenwood Springs Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazleton works with students Nov. 19.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs Elementary School will soon be seeking a new leader to guide it into its second century of existence in 2022.

Principal Audrey Hazleton, who has held the position since 2013, announced in a letter to parents that she has accepted a leadership position at Singapore American School for the 2022-23 school year.

“This is just something we want to do as a family,” Hazleton said. “It’s the same thing that we want for our students — go out there, go see the world, get out of your comfort zone, learn something new.”

Hazleton chose to leave after nearly a decade to give her three sons the opportunity to study abroad. Time is running out for the youngest two — currently a sophomore and a junior — and already expired on the oldest, who will get his high school diploma this year.

She’ll be able to take a similar job as a deputy middle school principal. She leaves behind a tenure of transition at Glenwood Springs Elementary School. Under her watch, the school restructured to an Expeditionary Learning curriculum, saw a campuswide renovation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, her school launched its bilingual program, which began this school year.

“Audrey’s accomplishments as a school leader have been consistently remarkable, and we will miss her,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said in a statement. “She has an uncanny ability to tolerate chaos, stay calm and focus on the needs of others, which has served her well in shepherding a school community through the pandemic.”

The school district said the position will be posted immediately and that Hazleton’s advance notice gives the school time to find the right candidate ahead of the next school year.

District leadership will begin meeting with stakeholders like teachers, parents and students on input in December. The district will then form its interview committee from staff, parents and administrators and begin the interview process.

Hazleton believes that whoever is named her successor will have a strong base to build from.

“We have just some amazing foundation in place for whoever takes the helm,” Hazleton said. “They should be someone who listens deeply to the community, to the students and teachers, staff and parents. Whoever steps into this role, there’s such a wealth of knowledge and care and passion for what’s happening here.”

Hazleton came to Glenwood Springs Elementary after teaching and leading a project-based learning school in her hometown of Fort Collins, jumping at the idea to pilot the school’s expeditionary learning transition. She earned her master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota in 1999.

She said her new role will be similar to her current one.

“I’ll still be in the action,” Hazleton said.

Glenwood Springs Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazleton poses outside the school Nov. 19.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

Reflecting on her time at Glenwood Springs Elementary, the exit is bittersweet. Hazleton got the offer for the job in Singapore the week before Thanksgiving break, making the announcement just four days later.

Emotions flare up in her discussions about leaving.

“I’m just really grateful for having been able to be in this position,” Hazleton said. “It’s hard to leave such an amazing place.”

Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or rallen@postindependent.com.

Roaring Fork School District approves one-time bonuses ahead of mill levy override funds

Full-time employees of the Roaring Fork School District will see up to an extra $1,000 on their December paychecks.

Voters of the district passed a mill levy override Nov. 2 for the purpose of increasing employee wages. However, the largest salary adjustment in district history likely won’t start until April, to the surprise of district personnel. To tide workers over in the meantime, the district’s Board of Education approved more than $700,000 in one-time bonuses.

“I was a little surprised when I learned of our timeline,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said in the Nov. 10 Board of Education meeting. “I was thinking if the mill levy passes, we’ll start to get this money, and we can immediately push it into paychecks. We’re not actually going to have the available funds ready to distribute for some time.

“That’s why we’re recommending to the board that we give our employees a bonus, because they’ve been hanging on by their fingernails.”

The school district is in the midst of a labor crisis, opening the school year with more than 60 openings due to wages disproportionately low to the Roaring Fork Valley’s cost of living. The passing of the mill levy override — which has not been formally ratified — will source up to $7.7 million and increase employee salaries an average of 10-12%, according to data from the Yes on 5B ballot measure campaign.

However, these funds will be sourced from property taxes, which won’t start being collected until 2022. Between that and salary research, the absolute best case scenario has salaries being adapted in March.

This does little to hold workers over in the final two months of the year, notoriously two of the most expensive on the calendar.

The bonuses will deliver $1,000 to full-time employees — not just teachers — who started or will start working for the district before Dec. 1, 2021, and will be prorated for part-time employees, excluding substitute teachers, who were already eligible for other bonuses. Workers beginning with the district after that date will receive an extra $500 in the April paychecks. Athletic coaches will also receive a $200 bonus.

Roaring Fork School District Chief Financial Officer Nathan Markham estimated that somewhere around 750 employees will see bonuses.

The one-time bonus will help employees hang on while the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted on the mill levy funds, Glenwood Middle School teacher and Yes on 5B co-chair Autumn Rivera said.

“It can definitely help alleviate some situations,” Rivera said. “Being able to pay rent. Teachers being able to maybe not have to take that extra shift at their second job. It’s a short-term fix, and we’re very grateful that we passed the mill levy so that we can provide a long-term fix.”

Funding for the bonuses will come from two sources. Roughly $400,000 will come from an insurance rebate from the Colorado Education Benefit Trust. The remainder will come from Proposition EE, a tax increase on nicotine products passed in 2020.

These funds were unallocated in the district’s budget before being assigned to the bonuses.

“Whenever we get those one-time funds, we try to be as thoughtful as we can about how we spend them,” Markham said. “As the summer went on and our staffing shortage became more acute and pay became the situation we’re seeing, it became clear that we needed to return money to employees if we’re able to.”

The bonus for full-time workers represents around 1.8% of the district’s average teacher salary, based on 2020-21 data from the Colorado Department of Education. Salaries were frozen during the school year due to budget restraints from the pandemic.

“Educators have been working under very difficult conditions due to the health and safety concerns of teaching through a pandemic in addition to the associated staff shortages,” Rob Norville, Glenwood Springs High School teacher and president of the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, said in a statement. “Due to the salary freeze in the 2020-21 school year, we are also a step behind in compensation, so we appreciate the district recognizing our sacrifice and loyalty to our students. The bonus will help relieve some of the financial stress that those working in RFSD continue to face as we await future budget infusions.”

Largest COVID-19 outbreak in Garfield County forces Ross Montessori School online

A sign outside Ross Montessori school in Carbondale notifies parents of remote learning on Nov. 15.
Rich Allen/Post Independent

A week ahead of Thanksgiving break, Ross Montessori School in Carbondale shut its doors early.

The largest reported COVID-19 outbreak in Garfield County since the pandemic began led the K-8 charter school to move to remote learning for the week, starting Monday.

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data, 46 students — nearly 15% of its enrollment — and 10 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since Oct. 11. According to Nov. 11 data, the cumulative 56 cases is the highest individual reported outbreak in Garfield County, topping the 55 from the E. Dene Moore Care Center in Rifle in November 2020.

A letter sent to parents by the school showed 20 positive tests from students and six from staff over the past two weeks. As of Nov. 16, 10 students and one staff member were still in quarantine, according to the school.

The plan is for classes to resume in person on Nov. 29, following Thanksgiving break.

“I know the school is going to do everything operationally to try to be in person,” Ross Montessori board of directors President Paul Smith said. “We’re like everyone else hoping that the delta variant wave passes through and that our families that decide that they want to get vaccinations for their children 5-11 years old have an opportunity to do that with this two-week break.”

No middle school students tested positive as of the Nov. 11 letter, but 10 of the 11 elementary level classes had at least one student test positive.

The school does not mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students or staff but implemented mask requirements, cohort isolation and ventilation measures. It declined offering specific vaccination rates, but said they were “high” in the letter to parents.

“Since our state does not require the COVID immunization for children, we only know if parents inform us,” Ross Montessori Head of School Sonya Hemmen said. “They are not required to tell us.”

In the Nov. 11 letter, it rejected the idea of hosting a vaccination clinic at the school. Two parents had requested an on-site vaccination clinic, which goes against school philosophy, according to the letter.

“We have zero interest in this or any other immunization program,” the letter, signed by Hemmen and copying the board of directors, reads. “We want to assure you that it is not consistent with our role as a school and not a health facility to poke students with needles.”

Ross Montessori is one of three local schools with an active outbreak as described by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in its most-recent report.

Grand Valley High School in Parachute reported 18 cases cumulatively — 17 of them students — after initial reporting on Oct. 19. According to Garfield County Public Health, the Grand Valley outbreak was considered resolved Monday. It was the second-largest outbreak at a school in the county, following Ross Montessori’s.

Active outbreaks are marked as resolved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment following 28 days of no new cases.

Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt reportedly had 17 cumulative cases as of Nov. 10, including the death of a long-time staff member. The school faces a public health order from Eagle County that controls how students and staff who have positive tests can become eligible for returning to school.

Ross Montessori does not face any public health orders and voluntarily opted to temporarily shutter its doors, working closely with Garfield County Public Health once a staff member tested positive in late September, school officials said.

The school reportedly had enough healthy staff members to stay open but followed requests of staff to move online “for additional time to recover from illness,” the letter states. It took similar action the week before winter break last year due to COVID-19 cases, Smith said.

The school did not set any benchmarks for returning to in-person and is intent on resuming classes as normal following the break.

“At a Montessori school, we simply cannot replicate what happens in a classroom at home,” Ross Montessori Teaching Coach Mandi Franz said. “What we have in our classroom and what our teachers do regularly and the communication that happens among students and the collaboration, it simply is best done in person.”

Garfield County Public Health wanted to emphasize that travel over Thanksgiving break could exacerbate a worsening trend in COVID-19 cases.

“Comparing to this time a year ago, where vaccines were just becoming a tool we could use to decrease cases, we’re almost back to that level with case loads,” Garfield County Public Health spokeswoman Carrie Godes said. “It’s an important time to remind families congregating, parents working, that it impacts your household. It impacts your school, your place of employment as well as your family.”

Roaring Fork School District back to ‘normal’ through first quarter spending

Spending through the first quarter of the school year has stayed slightly under budget for the Roaring Fork School District according to Chief Financial Officer Nathan Markham.

Markham said projections for enrollment were “spot on” this year after an uncertain pandemic year.

“It’s been business as usual,” Markham said. “If anything, we’re a little underspent through the first quarter of the year.”

Markham presented first-quarter budgeting to the Board of Education on Nov. 10, showing that the district spent 21% of its budget through the first 25% of the year. By the Sept. 30 date, Roaring Fork School District spent just more than $13.4 million of its $63.8 million annual budget, plus $14.4 million in appropriated reserves.

Spending is down due to more than 60 open positions at the beginning of the school year. With 19 unfilled teaching positions in July, the instruction salary budget is down more than $350,000. The district has allocated some money from those positions as needed but is still hoping to fill those roles.

“This is a unique year in my experience in schools,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said during the presentation. “We have more money than people, not by our choice. We’re trying to be creative with some of our ‘savings’ from unfilled positions.”

Instruction salaries still represent the district’s highest first quarter expenditure at $6.1 million, around 45% of its first-quarter spendings. Instruction costs as a whole, including employee benefits, purchased services and materials, are above $8.5 million.

The district sourced just above $8 million in revenue in the first quarter, about 13.3% of its budgeted revenue. It is slated to receive more than $27 million from property taxes and has collected just 0.6% of those funds so far, with the majority coming in the spring.

Proposition EE — an increase of taxes on nicotine funds — sourced nearly $1 million for the district. Those funds were partially allocated to building early childhood education infrastructure and the remainder, roughly $400,000, will be dedicated to one-time staff bonuses approved in the same meeting.

The bonuses will be $1,000 for full-time employees and then prorated for part-time workers. They are intended to help “make employees whole” until funds from the recently passed mill levy override for the purpose of increasing staff salaries begin arriving early in 2022, Markham said.

The district is projected to spend $11,726 per pupil and earn net revenues of $11,379 per pupil.

Roaring Fork School District board turns attention to next steps after mill levy override looks to pass

With nearly 70% of the vote in favor of ballot question 5B, the next steps for the Roaring Fork School District will be coordinating “the largest salary adjustment in the district’s history,” according to a staff memo issued for Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

The exact amount to be awarded by the mill levy override won’t be determined until enrollment numbers are finalized this month, but could add up to $7.7 million. In Wednesday’s meeting, district officials will present a timeline and next steps for funding and recommend a one-time bonus to all staff members for short-term relief before funds start flowing. The memo said salary adjustments will start appearing in paychecks in either March or April.

“We’ve never seen this kind of infusion of dollars into the school district for the sole purpose of increasing salaries and a little bit of additional funding for recruitment and retention efforts,” Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein said in the Oct. 27 board meeting.

Data from the Yes on 5B campaign said salaries could go up an average of 10-12% across the district with the mill levy override funds.

The proposed bonuses include a $1,000 base across all full-time employees that is prorated for part-time employees. Workers must be employed by the district before Dec. 1 to be eligible. New workers starting after that date would receive $500 in their April paychecks. Substitute teachers are not eligible.

Funding for these bonuses will come from dividends from the allocation of Colorado Education Benefit Trust and Proposition EE — a 2020 tax increase on nicotine products sourcing education funding — according to the memo. It said the trust rebate sourced about $400,000, and remaining EE funds add up to $300,000.

Also on the agenda

Action items include acting on resolutions for the installation of new scoreboards at Basalt High School and a grant for a lighting project at Glenwood Springs High School’s theater. It will also act on the first reading on an update to background check policies.

The board will also hear a quarterly financial report going over financial statements through Sept. 30.

Net revenues across the district’s funding sources increased $177,380, just over 2%, compared to the first quarter in 2021. It spent $13.4 million in the first quarter.

The board will also recognize and send off members Jen Rupert and Jennifer Scherer following the election to fill their seats. Kenny Teitler will replace Rupert in District A, and Kathryn Kuhlenberg will replace Scherer in District E, based on unofficial ballot results.

Wednesday’s meeting will be held in person at the district’s Carbondale office, 400 Sopris Ave. It will begin with a work session at 4:30 p.m. for the onboarding of Kuhlenberg and Teitler, with the proper meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Those who wish to make a public comment must sign up via an online form before the beginning of the meeting.

Rejuvenated Rosie’s Schoolhouse in midst of first semester back in the classroom

New space has K-8 Ambleside School looking at high school expansion

Mrs. Fletcher does math problems with her second and third graders at Ambleside School Rocky Mountains in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The building affectionately known as Rosie’s Schoolhouse was dark, dirty and unoccupied. It had become a sore spot for the New Castle community, deemed unusable. Disrepair and neglect had let the historic eastern bookend to the town’s Main Street fall out of good graces.

Now it’s back on its path as a proud piece of New Castle history.

Ambleside, a private Christian school that had operated out of the basement of Mountain View Church in Glenwood Springs, needed a new home following the 2020-21 school year. Its lease was up, and it was outgrowing the space anyway. As New Castle began exploring options for its vacant 17,000-square-foot space and Ambleside needed a new home, a natural fit was found.

“The nice thing is that the entire building is just for this school,” Ambleside eighth-grader Joshua Cowan said. “When it started, it was in a pretty worn-down condition, but it’s pretty nice, and it’s a really nice environment. It’s a lot better than it was.”

The exterior of the renovated old school house in New Castle is now the Ambleside School Rocky Mountains in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Contractors worked seven days a week from May through August to get the building up to standard to host a school. The fire alarms had to be updated, and the electrical brought up to code. Principal Jesseca Toovey said the original coal-fed boiler was still in place.

Work is still being done and funds are still being raised, but the school opened its new doors on Sept. 7.

When it’s all said and done, the new home will be a much better fit than Ambleside’s previous stay — and in some ways already is. Toovey said that the majority of students come from the area between Rifle and New Castle to begin with, making the move out of Glenwood Springs a benefit.

According to eighth-grader Abigail Dickens — who has attended Ambleside since first grade — her previous classroom in the church had no windows. Students get access to Burning Mountain Park and will have a gymnasium once renovations are complete.

It’s also a space the school can grow into. The school year is in full swing and serving its full student population while using only one of the building’s two floors.

Slowly, the school plans to fill the space. By the end of it, Ambleside will no longer be a K-8; it’ll be a K-12.

“I think there’s a need for more private education, especially in the high school region here in the area,” Toovey said. “That really is part of having a larger building as well as being able to do a lot of the things having the gymnasium allows us to do.”

For the town, it marks a restoration of an important landmark. The white-brick building was built in 1910 and functioned as a school for more than 80 years, as previously reported by the Post Independent. After it was dropped as a school, former teacher Rosie Ferrin bought it in the 1990s, where it jumped from function to function, never finding one that would sustain.

The gymnasium renovation is still underway at Ambleside School Rocky Mountains in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

It was an apartment complex when Ferrin died in 2019, with control of the property transitioning to her sisters, according to Toovey.

New Castle town manager David Reynolds said there were discussions about what to do next with Rosie’s, but nothing seemed right until the proposition for a return to its roots came along.

“When we started conversations with the school, I think we understood the mission of the school and what we wanted to do with the building, (and) the more we saw that this was absolutely the right fit and some sense to it and maybe some poetic justice,” Reynolds said.

Confidentiality in school-based health centers

What services can minor students self-consent for?

Staff work inside the new Mountain Family Health school-based health center at Glenwood Springs High School.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

After Glenwood Springs High School opened a school-based health center this fall, questions and concerns began to swirl.

Operated by Mountain Family Health Centers, it offers a three-legged treatment location within school walls to provide limited dental, behavioral and mental care. The new center is already the fourth within the Roaring Fork School District and fifth operated by Mountain Family. Still, its opening raised questions from some in the community, including around self-consenting for care.

“Because of logistical challenges related to opening and expanding school-based health centers during the pandemic, we have heard some confusion regarding what services are offered, when they are available and how to navigate enrollment processes,” said Roaring Fork School District Chief of Student and Family Services Anna Cole.

School-based health centers are governed by health care regulations, not school district policies. The district’s Board of Education updated a policy in October entitled “Administering Medications to Students,” which requires written legal guardian consent before any medication can be given. Mountain Family is a separate entity from the schools in which they operate, exempting them from these rules and opening the door to confidential care under federal and state laws.

“We’re independent, and we’re under the regulations that govern health care, not the schools,” Mountain Family Health Centers Director of Operations Marija Weeden said.

Many medications and treatments are off the table for minor patient confidentiality, but some are still available.

Colorado law allows for people of any age to self-consent with full HIPAA privacy protection for contraception and prenatal, delivery and postnatal care.

The new school-based health center by Mountain Family Health inside Glenwood Springs High School.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Victims of sexual assault and other sexual offenses can self-consent, but the treating physician must make “a reasonable effort” to notify the guardian.

Unemancipated minors can also self-consent for sexually transmitted infection treatment, diagnosis and prevention and drug and alcohol abuse treatment. Emancipated or legally married minors over the age of 14 can self-consent for all services provided by Mountain Family.

Minors over the age of 11 can self-consent for behavioral health treatment at Mountain Family facilities.

Counseling services are available for a variety of needs, but parental notification is legally required once that becomes medical treatment.

Weeden also said that those conversations lead to the patient being directed toward community resources outside Mountain Family. In the case of gender affirmation treatment, patients are directed to places like TRUE Center for Gender Diversity at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“We are actively working to strengthen consistency, communication and streamline access to services,” Cole said. “Mountain Family is our regional Federally Qualified Health Center; they share our commitment to ensuring children and families have access to the community resources and services needed to be successful learners in school.”

Weeden asked that concerns about services provided and confidentiality at school-based health centers be directed to Connie Ruiz at CRuiz@mountainfamily.org.

Eagle County issues public health order to contain outbreak at Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt

From left, Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu and commissioners Matt Scherr and Kathy Chandler-Henry listen to Heath Harmon, the county’s public health director, at Thursday’s emergency meeting of the board of health in Eagle.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

EAGLE — The Eagle County commissioners on Thursday signed a public health order directed at Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt to contain an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak that has reached 14 cases.

The signing of the order came at the close of an emergency meeting of the Eagle County Board of Health. Any person at the private Christian school who fails to comply with the order is subject to penalties ranging from fines up to $5,000 and jail time up to 18 months.

The hourlong meeting included a presentation by Heath Harmon, the county’s public health director, who provided a timeline of the county’s requests for the school to come into compliance with public health reporting of positive cases at the school. School board members Jonathan Jones, Norman Bacheldor and Amanda Pond, who is also a third-grade teacher at the campus, expressed contrition for the situation while also stating that the school hasn’t been lax about taking COVID-19 precautions.

“We don’t take this lightly. We’re not careless,” Bacheldor said.

Pond said as a staff member at the school, “I can say we’re meeting weekly and communicating protocols and what we need to be doing in our classroom and how we need to be taking temps of the kids when they come in and sanitizing at lunchtime and after lunch.”

The emergency meeting came a little more than a month after the Rev. Jim Tarr of Cornerstone Christian Church appealed to Eagle County Commissioners Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney and Matt Scherr to let his school determine its own policy on masks for students based on its religious status.

Tarr, who also is president of Cornerstone Christian School, which is located along Colorado Highway 82 between El Jebel and Basalt, said the parents of students at the school should determine whether masks should be required rather than Eagle County’s department of public health.

“In the role of society, children are not created to be obedient to any other system of government except for the wishes of their parents,” Tarr said on Sept. 30.

Tarr was not present at Thursday’s meeting because he was at home struggling with a case of COVID-19, Pond said. A longtime staff member at the school has died — likely the 32nd and most recent county resident to succumb to the virus since the outbreak began.

“Late in the afternoon of November 1, 2021, Cornerstone provided a partial and incomplete response to the ECPHE inquiry,” according to the order. “The correspondence from Cornerstone indicated that between October 1, 2021 and October 31, 2021, eleven (11) Cornerstone students and staff have reported positive cases of COVID-19, with one staff member now being deceased. None of those reports had been received by ECPHE in advance of this inquiry.”

And, as Jones explained to commissioners, the school’s inability to meet deadlines set by Harmon to come into compliance was, in part, due to the school’s administrator and secretary being in quarantine with COVID-19.

“Some of the issues that we faced right away, one of the individuals who was positive for COVID was our administrator at the school,” Jones explained. “With that being the case, trying to acquire this information without passwords and things like that, it was really just a hard situation to be in. The delay in the process was not us trying to not comply, it was just a logistical issue that we faced.”

Fighting over masks

Tarr took his case directly to the commissioners at their Sept. 30 meeting after he was told by the Eagle County Health Department the private Christian school must adhere to an indoor mask mandate that was extended Sept. 16 for all schools in the county. The order has since been extended to Dec. 17 as incidents rates remained elevated.

Eagle County’s COVID-19 incidence rate has risen from 187 cases per 100,000 on Oct. 22 to 318 cases per 100,000 as of Thursday.

Cornerstone Principal Emily Lambert submitted her resignation after the school determined it would defy the public health order. A meeting that was called for parents after Lambert’s resignation became “very polarizing” with “anti-maskers versus maskers,” a parent said.

Bacheldor made a point not to rehash the debate over masks Thursday, but he made clear that the school had managed the pandemic well before the current outbreak, with no major disruptions.

“During the height of COVID, we were maybe the only school that was able to stay open the whole time,” he said. “We had no outbreak at all. We didn’t have a COVID case. So we felt pretty good that we were pretty careful about what we were doing. I don’t know if we were less careful this time, but certainly the results were not the same as last year.”

Cornerstone Christian School is on Highway 82 in the Roaring Fork Valley between Basalt and El Jebel. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The current outbreak at the school first came to the attention of county officials last month after a complaint was filed to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. An initial investigation, with the help of public health departments in Garfield and Pitkin counties, led to the determination of four confirmed cases at the school, with more suspected.

Harmon’s office sent a letter Oct. 29 seeking cooperation with its investigation that asked the school to supply data about COVID-19 testing at the school for students and staff, details about any positive cases, copies of exposure notifications sent to families and Cornerstone staff, and student contact information.

The deadline for the school to provide the information was 2 p.m. Oct. 30, which school officials failed to meet. The school did provide a partial and incomplete response by the afternoon of Nov. 1 with the information that between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31, 11 students and staff members had reported positive cases, with one staff member dying from the virus.

Harmon mentioned Thursday that three more cases have emerged in the past two days, bringing the total to 14. And he also stated that the school’s inability to meet the Oct. 30 deadline came over a weekend in which a fall festival was held at the campus on Halloween, despite knowledge of the large number of COVID-19 cases and exposures associated with the school, with no known adequate mitigation processes and procedures in place.

Going to e-learning

To get the outbreak under control, the school has notified the county that it is moving students to e-learning. It had already moved certain cohorts to remote learning before the county had issued its letter Oct. 29.

“The protocols that were in place, as far as quarantining if anyone said they were sick, had symptoms, things like that, all of that was still happening,” Jones said. “I think it’s important that everyone know that it was not a situation where we weren’t doing anything at all. If someone reported an illness, they went home.”

The public health order that commissioners signed Thursday makes absolutely clear what the school needs to do when students and staff return. The school must report all positive cases of students and staff, it must report all previously requested information from the county, it must follow quarantine and isolation procedures for those who test positive or show symptoms, and face coverings will be required inside the school for those over the age of 2.

The order also says the school must cease and desist from tests performed by staff for other staff and students, and anyone who has not had a positive COVID-19 test in the past 90 days must be tested upon returning to school after quarantines have expired. Those who haven’t had a positive test in 90 days must also be tested two times a week until the order is expired or rescinded.

The school also cannot host any events for staff or students until the order is rescinded.

“I think it’s so important to have kids in the classroom, for the families and things like that,” Jones said. “But I think it’s absolutely necessary that we get this separation, as mentioned. In this process, it’s been a huge learning experience for all of us. I would just really reiterate that our intent was not to delay. Not to be an issue to the county. It was really logistical issues that we faced. The whole week has been a whirlwind for me.”

He added: “Our intent is to absolutely keep our students safe.”