Roaring Fork Schools board set to dive into details of back-to-classroom plan |

Roaring Fork Schools board set to dive into details of back-to-classroom plan

Area's COVID metrics to make pivot still in 'concerning' range

Post Independent education news graphic

A return to in-person classroom learning for the Roaring Fork School District — whenever that time comes — would be anything but a return to normal, under a detailed plan being reviewed by the local school board Wednesday night.

During a 5-1/2-hours-long special school board meeting Sept. 16, the board agreed to a cautious plan to bring full grade levels back into school buildings when the data regarding the spread of COVID-19 supports a safe return.

That decision hinges on the area being served by the school district, including parts of Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, moving into what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment terms “Safer Level 1” in its five-level measure of risk factors.

As of Tuesday, all three counties remained in the “Safer Level 2,” suggesting the risk level is still too high. The three counties would need to be at Level 1 for two straight weeks before the district would implement the return plan, starting with grades K-3 and working up through the middle school grades.

High school students would not return to buildings until the counties achieve “Protect Our Neighbors” status, which is the least restrictive level when it comes to the capacity at which businesses can operate and for larger congregations of people.

The 24-page plan itself outlines numerous strict rules and expectations of parents, students and school staff that are to be followed when students are allowed back into school buildings in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

Among them:

  • Families are asked to scan their child(ren) for symptoms before sending them to the bus or dropping them off at school. Students will also be screened, including with a temperature check, when they arrive at school.
  • Masks will be mandatory in schools for all grade levels and for adults, as well as on buses and throughout the day (with breaks for recess and lunch).
  • Students in elementary and middle school will remain in the same group of students (cohorts) for the day.
  • Physical distancing is to be practiced throughout the day, maintaining at least 6 feet with no physical contact.
  • If a student develops symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, they will be isolated until a parent or guardian picks them up (emergency contact numbers must be kept up-to-date with the school registrar)
  • Students may not be dropped off early, and each school will determine its drop-off window.
  • Schools will have specific pick-up, drop-off, and bus zones, and buildings will have dedicated entry and exit routes.
  • Parents, guests, visitors and unplanned volunteers are not allowed in schools at this time.

The school day is also to be shortened once students return, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. And, the shift from distance to in-person learning would include two transition days for teachers and staff to prepare for the return of students.

“No schools will be operating in a business-as-usual manner for the foreseeable future, but we hope to shape positive school and learning experiences within a challenging new context,” the district plan states.

Currently, all grade levels in the district, with the exception of some groups of special needs students, are receiving instruction from their teachers via an online distance learning model.

“The Roaring Fork Schools are approaching this year with caution, safety, and hope,” the plan states. “When students are learning in-person this year, all students, staff, and families will be expected to follow the safety, health, and hygiene protocols.”

The plan also provides that families will be given the option of having their children remain on a distance learning plan, even when buildings are reopened to students.

Teachers who have indicated they do not feel comfortable returning to in-person learning will be given the option to continue teaching online, Amy Littlejohn, the district’s human resources director, said at the Sept. 16 meeting.

In a recent survey, nearly 19% of the district’s teachers indicated they might not return to the classroom with in-person learning.

Rick Holt, chief academic officer for the school district, said at last week’s meeting that students who continue with online instruction may not have their regular classroom teacher. Students from multiple schools could also be combined in a distance-learning “class” in some cases, he said.

As for buses, they will be limited to two-thirds capacity, and will be cleaned and sanitized on a routine daily schedule same as school buildings, Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for the district, said.

The Wednesday school board meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Viewers and anyone who wants to comment on the plan can log in on the Zoom link provided on the meeting agenda.

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