Regionalized COVID data can help steer Roaring Fork Schools toward classroom return
A key to moving the Roaring Fork Schools from distance learning to begin the new school year next month to in-classroom learning hinges on obtaining more useful statistics from public health officials in the region.
“One of our challenges is that our school district overlaps three counties,” Superintendent Rob Stein noted during a special video-conference meeting of the Roaring Fork District Board of Education on Wednesday.
Just looking at the COVID-19 statistics and trends from Garfield County — where two of the district’s three communities, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, are located — is far broader than what’s relevant to the lower Roaring Fork Valley, Stein said.
And, Basalt is split between Eagle and Pitkin counties, which also compile their data on a countywide basis. Therefore, there’s little information about sub-areas such as Basalt and the Crystal Valley portion of the school district, which would be helpful in making decisions about schools, he said.
Public health departments from the tri-county region have begun working more closely together around testing, contact tracing and general communication.
One goal is to create a single indicator for the middle and lower Roaring Fork Valley that can be used as the district prepares to move from distance learning to either a hybrid learning model or full in-classroom instruction by Sept. 21, Stein said.
Mason Hohstadt, a public health specialist with Garfield County Public Health, confirmed the three counties are working to provide real-time regional metrics, with more disaggregated information that can be helpful not only for the school district, but for businesses and other entities. “This is part of the ongoing discussions with the regional Roaring Fork Valley task force,” Hohstadt said. That group meets weekly, he said.
“We will be using our data in coordination with the other counties and municipalities,’’ he said. “But we don’t have a regional dataset, or dashboard, yet.”
For the time being, for the school district’s sake, “no matter which metrics you’re using, the consensus is that the risk level is high and the trending is in the wrong direction,” Stein said during a more than hour-long presentation at the Wednesday school board meeting.
“That’s the data and advice from public health that we use to make the determination that we would start the year with distance learning.”
Stein said that the district would need to see two weeks worth of data trending in the positive direction for schools to move toward a hybrid or full classroom model.
“We will not be able to turn on a dime,” he said. “We’re trying to be as fluid as we can, but we’re more fluid like molasses. We have to be sure we’re methodically and carefully making that transition.”
The school board will decide at an August meeting whether to use a rolling two-week notification period to decide whether to move to the next phase, or on a month-to-month basis.
The only exception would be if there’s a major outbreak or change in public health orders that would necessitate an immediate shift in whatever model the district is using at that time, Stein said.
“We are letting the health conditions in our community be the model for determining that next approach,” he said.
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Prospective candidates are being sought for two open Carbondale/Basalt-area Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education seats that will be up for election Nov. 2 for four-year terms.