Roaring Fork District seeks to balance concerns over drumbeat of coronavirus quarantines
Two additional quarantines announced during school board meeting
Roaring Fork School District school board members were mid-conversation about the new landscape of trying to keep schools open during a global pandemic Wednesday night when the board president herself got “the call.”
“All of a sudden my mind is reeling right here, as I try to plan out the rest of my work week,” Jen Rupert said after learning her own family would be impacted by the latest school classroom quarantine, and relating the experience to that of other parents.
The Wednesday night calls that the entire eighth grade at Basalt Middle School and, in an unrelated case, that 40 students and staff at neighboring Basalt Elementary School would have to do the same were the seventh and eighth such announcements in the past nine days.
They weren’t the first calls that went out to parents this week.
Earlier in the day Wednesday, the district announced that a small group of students at Glenwood Springs Middle School would have to quarantine for 14 days due to an individual at the school testing positive for COVID-19.
Late Monday, parents were advised that 25 students at Basalt Elementary School would also have to quarantine and revert to remote distance learning for 14 days.
In the cases of the Glenwood and Basalt middle school, affected students won’t return to in-person classes until after Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30.
Rupert’s personal announcement that she had just gotten the call that so many other parents have been getting punctuated a long discussion about the protocols school officials have had to employ each time a COVID-19 case shows up at the door.
“Although we have had to quarantine numerous cohorts so far, we have been advised by (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and other health experts that the spread of COVID within schools is very low,” Superintendent Rob Stein said in a statement accompanying the Basalt school announcements.
“This is what we’re seeing in our school district and neighboring school districts, as well — students and staff are contracting COVID in the community and not spreading it within schools,” he said. “That means it’s more important than ever to observe precautions when out in the community to keep our schools safe.”
That was a central theme of Wednesday night’s school board discussion. There are no plans at this time to revert schools back to 100% online learning, even with a major spike in new coronavirus cases locally and statewide, Stein said.
But, the ability to continue to offer the option of in-person learning for students — even with the disruption of regular quarantines — hinges on students, staff and parents limiting their social gatherings outside of school.
“The more we can do outside of schools to refrain from large gatherings … and following all of the protocols … those are really important things right now,” Stein said.
Coupled with the impact on students and parents is growing stress among teachers who get pulled in multiple directions whenever there’s a new class quarantine or, in the case of Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School this week, a full closure due to staffing shortages.
“It’s really taking a toll,” Glenwood Middle School teacher Autumn Rivera said during the Wednesday school board videoconference meeting.
“I have to do my (lesson) plan now in three different ways,” she said, explaining that she and her regular class are now on quarantine, but some of her students are still attending school in person.
“I’m really concerned that the district is going to lose a significant amount of teachers over this,” she said. “I had three teachers tell me today they have their resignation letters ready. Families of teachers are begging them to quit right now.”
Rupert said the board understands the load that’s falling on teachers under the current circumstances, but said she’s gotten an equal number of emails from teachers who want the district to continue with in-person classes for the sake of the students.
“We will continue to look for options to alleviate the pressure on our teachers,” she said.
One procedural adjustment already came with the Basalt Middle School shift on Wednesday. Whenever a whole grade or school moves to distance learning, a transition day off for teachers to plan and students to prepare will be considered.
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All Garfield Re-2 schools will have one week of remote learning following Thanksgiving break, a news release from the district Friday states.