A return to school for Garfield Re-2

Garfield School District Re-2 begins the process for an August 24 start with in-person learning

Community members, parents, district staff and teachers listen the presentation of the plans for the return to school for Garfield School District Re-2 Monday at Rifle High School.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

The Garfield School District Re-2 board voted Monday night to start school in a little over a month, bringing students back to school campuses using safety precautions including students 11 and above wearing masks.

With nearly 100 people in attendance and more than 300 watching or listening via Zoom, the Re-2 school board took public comments for more than two hours on plans to move forward with in-person learning this fall.

The district released its recommendations early Monday morning to return to in-person school Aug. 24. The plan would push the original start date of Aug. 17 back a week to give the district staff more time to prepare for students.

District staff laid out the plan for the return during an hour-long workshop before the special meeting began Monday.

The district provided three options for returning to learning in the district. The No. 1 option and recommendation to the board was for in-person learning for all students with an online option for students who request it.

Other options included a hybrid model and a distance learning model, either of which the district can transition to if state or county guidelines change.

“I think one thing that really dawned on the teachers as we went through this process is that it is going to look very different if we are able to bring our kids back,” Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Director Julie Knowles said.

Board members and district staff heard public comments from community members, parents and teachers, with an overwhelming number of commenters who were against wearing masks.

Rifle resident and former Re-2 school board member Brock Hedberg was among those who went to the public comment period to make a statement.

“I wonder sometimes why we’re even wearing these. It’s a question all of us should ask ourselves. Is it because the government tells us to? I do know there is data that says that they don’t do much,” Hedberg said. “As I’m breathing through it I’m choking on myself, it’s very difficult. Is it going to take away from learning, absolutely. Everyone in here can agree with that.”

The Centers for Disease Control says cloth coverings can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Others, including Hannah Bihr, expressed worries about changing mandates, and how it would affect their children and other students in the district if the county had a spike in cases and they had to pull back plans for one of the other models submitted.

“You are talking about consistency and a routine, and your primary goal of education. Ideally the best aspect of education is in-person. The social aspect of that highly outweighs the benefits online or distance learning,” Bihr said. “We all as a community have to learn to adjust, but one of the best things you can do as a board, you can do for our community, is get our kids back to school.”

Julie Knowles, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Director for Garfield School District Re-2, presents the plan to school board on the return to school for the district during a workshop Monday in Rifle.

Board members sat idle, listening intently and taking notes as community member after community member adamantly voiced their opinion on what the district should do this fall. After lengthy discussion between board members the school board voted to approve the resolution just shy of 10 p.m. Monday.

“We don’t have time on our side. We are going to have to make some hard decisions one way or the other as we move forward. We learned back in March that we can pivot on a moment’s notice,” board member Tom Slappey said.

Several teachers from the district also voiced their concerns through Zoom and submitted emails to the board during the special meeting. Many were emotional as they voiced their worries about the possibility of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their family when they go back to work.

“We heard a lot of comments tonight, I just want to make it clear we will continue with our mitigation plan, we will survey our staff before moving forward.” Board President Anne Guettler said. “There were a lot of concerns that were valid, that we haven’t addressed.”

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