Roaring Fork Schools eye Nov. 2 target date for high school classroom return |

Roaring Fork Schools eye Nov. 2 target date for high school classroom return

Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.
Post Independent file photo

Roaring Fork District high schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt could open to in-person learning on Nov. 2, under a recommendation before the local school board next week.

In a memo to the board for its Oct. 14 meeting, Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said high schools have begun planning to open that week to in-person learning for those students and families who want that option.

The district would need to remain in the Safer at Home Level 2, or better, for determining the risk level for spread of COVID-19 in order to proceed with that plan, Stein said during a Friday interview with the Post Independent.

The same is true for the planned return to in-person classroom instruction for kindergarten through third grade on Oct. 19, and for grades four through eight on Oct. 26, as previously announced by the district.

The Roaring Fork Schools have been operating mostly under a distance learning model with online classes since the beginning of the school year in August as a precaution given continued concerns about coronavirus infection rates.

Stein’s recommendation regarding a classroom return for high schools comes as an organized parent group, Roaring Fork Families for Choice, has been pushing hard for a timeline to allow high school students back into the classroom.

A coalition of local pediatricians also penned a letter to the Roaring Fork and Aspen school districts recently urging a managed approach to beginning face-to-face classroom instruction, saying it’s as much a public health concern for children as the concern for disease spread.

Among the arguments from parents is that other neighboring school districts, including Garfield Re-2, Garfield District 16 and Eagle County Schools, have had an in-person option since the start of the school year, and the Roaring Fork District should, as well.

“As part of the planning process, we are conducting structured interviews with high schools around the state that have resumed in-person learning under various models so that we can learn best practices from the field,” Stein writes in his memo to the school board. “We will also be reviewing the latest public health data on high schools and interviewing public health experts.”

Some groups of students have already been allowed back into school buildings, based on certain strict criteria.

“In-person services are currently being provided for targeted student populations, including subgroups of students who qualify for federal and state programs, at-risk students (as defined by the state), and students who lack internet access,” Stein explains.

The district’s alternative Bridges High School, located in Carbondale and with an enrollment of 80 students, plans to resume in-person learning at 50% capacity on Oct. 19, Stein also indicated in his memo.

To bring the other high schools along, a task force comprising school leaders and district instructional team members is gathering information and developing scenarios, he said.

Some of the considerations outlined in the memo include: 

  • Whether to pursue a hybrid or full-time model, based on most recent evidence about transmission risks for older adolescents.
  • Distance learning program for students who opt not to return to in-person learning.
  • Ensuring that HVAC systems and custodial practices are sufficient to accommodate large numbers of students. “One of our high schools has presented particular HVAC challenges,” Stein said of Glenwood Springs High School. “We have commissioned a study to diagnose the problems and have already begun extensive repairs.” The district has allocated $200,000 in federal CARES funding — part of a bigger $4 million package the district received — to facility upgrades related to the pandemic.
  • Adequate airflow, filtration, and ionization must be in place before welcoming large numbers of students into buildings.
  • Timeline to allow teacher and staff input into the planning process once the learning model has been determined; this will largely involve use of existing staff feedback and decision-making structures, including content teams and building leadership teams.
  • Opportunities for teachers and staff members to meet with health experts and to address questions about protective measures, HVAC, custodial and building hygiene. 
  • Transportation and food services feasibility options.
  • Surveys of families about their intentions to send students to school or stick with distance learning.

Stein also outlined changes in the way public health data is being used to make determinations about safely returning to classrooms.

Instead of using the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Covid dial as the primary reference point, the district will now turn to multiple sources for advice, including local public health and medical experts, he said.

“As one local physician explained, to look only at the Covid dial is an oversimplification and we can’t put that much weight on it,” Stein wrote in his memo to the board. “In short, we cannot rely on the dial as the only set of indicators for triggering decisions in our schools.

“Rather than using the dial as our sole reference point, we will need to continue meeting regularly with our county public health departments, practicing physicians, and other health providers in our own community to seek their guidance. And, we will need to provide more opportunities for our teachers, staff, students, and parents to meet with health professionals and hear their advice about risk mitigation and safety precautions in our schools.”

The next Roaring Fork District school board meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 via Zoom. The public is welcome to log in and comment on the latest plans. 

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