In Garfield County, it’s back to school but not quite back to normal
Roaring Fork Schools start school year with masks, caution about pandemic setbacks
This story has been updated with new content from the original web-posted version.
Across the valley, groggy teens rolled out of bed at the sound of their early alarms for the first time Monday, making their way to zero-hour Advanced Placement class labs that were decidedly way too early in the day.
Forty-five minutes later, their ninth through 12th-grade peers started filing in, picking up their schedules, reacquainting with teachers, friends and staff as they tried to locate their new classes.
For the first time since fall 2019, high schoolers were having their first day of school.
Among them was Xavier Roeser, who isn’t the biggest fan of school. Yet even he was somewhat happy to be back in the classroom as his senior year kicked off at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, compared to the alternative of online classes the pandemic brought on last year.
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Roeser, who spent half his time in Marble during his junior year, said working from home verged on impossible due to sketchy internet access.
To even access his coursework, he would have to either drive to Carbondale or climb up on the roof of his home and rely on cell service.
“I like the fresh slate feeling,” Roeser said. “Online schooling sounds really nice to me, but then also I have no motivation to do it. It’s nice being back in school.”
As Roaring Fork Schools welcomed high schoolers back to class, middle school and down held orientation day Monday. Parents accompanied their youngsters as they met teachers, played some games and got in gear for another nine months of soaking up knowledge.
In some cases, kids got to give their parents tours for the first time after last year’s restrictions. The fresh shine of a new school year rubbed off on even the skeptics, at least for a day.
“I’m excited right now but that might change once we actually start,” Glenwood Springs Middle School eighth grader Addison Godes said.
Elementary and middle school classes in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt began for real on Tuesday. Classes also started back up this week in New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute schools.
Every student, parent, teacher and administrator had a new perspective brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and baited breath about what it may have in store next.
The 2020-21 school year began remotely and stayed that way until November, then saw students bounce between in-person and distance learning as positive cases of the coronavirus popped up along the way. Students persevered through accessibility issues and distractions, let alone those of the pandemic as a whole, like mental and physical health.
“It feels a little bit more normal even though they have to wear masks still,” said Carolina Griffith, mother of incoming fifth grader Emilia at Riverview School. “At least they’re with friends, learning in a classroom, experimenting and all that.”
Face masks are still required, but there’s a hope that’s as different from the colloquial “normal” as things get.
The spike in the number of delta variant counts, however, serves as a reminder that a smooth return to pre-COVID-19 life isn’t a guarantee. Worries about a pendulum swing the other way, back toward remote learning, quarantines and week-to-week policy changes are tangible, according to new Roaring Fork High School principal Megan Baiardo in her first day welcoming students to campus.
“It’s a classic case of hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” Baiardo said. “We’re aware of how serious it is right now, how we’re a bit balanced on a precipice. It feels any day could be a huge setback. But at the same time, we’re just making sure we can try to give these students a normal experience, while making sure we’re looking at their health and safety. I think we’re going to be in another year of adapt and shift.”
Roaring Fork Schools are currently requiring all staff in school buildings to wear masks, with the exception of employees not in the presence of students. Garfield County Re-2 is recommending masks but is not requiring them.
The district set the criteria for lifting the mask mandate at a 70% vaccination rate either between the school population — staff and students — or the local community, whichever comes first. Baiardo said more information about the schools’ vaccination rates will become clear as students turn in their records, while the district has said it continues to work with health officials to find ways to effectively track community vaccination rates.
Another criteria for lifting mask requirements is when Garfield County reaches a new case count below 35 per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. The numbers reported on Aug. 16 show the incidence rate at 88.1.
For the time being, masks will remain in the district and will simply be what’s required for getting back in the classroom and making the best of the school experience.
“I am kind of excited to just have a good last year, especially after COVID,” Roeser said.
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