Roaring Fork Schools to open with distance learning, given latest surge in new coronavirus cases |

Roaring Fork Schools to open with distance learning, given latest surge in new coronavirus cases

Roaring Fork Schools will begin the new school year using what the district says will be an “improved” distance learning model from Aug. 17 through Sept. 21, while evaluating how to proceed for the rest of the fall semester.

“This decision is based on the current high risk level to public health in our communities due to the COVID pandemic, as well as our board-approved Back-to-School Guiding Principles that prioritize student, staff, and community health, safety, and wellbeing above all else,” district officials said in a late Friday announcement.

“While we all want to return to face-to-face instruction, because we know it’s best for student learning and deeper relationships, choosing to do so while COVID cases are on the rise would put our entire community at risk,” according to the statement issued via Facebook and posted to the district’s website.

The Roaring Fork District includes public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The full announcement can be found here, with a link to a comments forum to provide feedback. The Roaring Fork District school board is also set to meet via video conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 to discuss the plan and take public comments.

“We know that people will have different reactions to this news, including relief, disappointment, and many emotions in between,” district officials said in the statement. “Like all of you, we feel immense sadness that our students will not start the year in school classrooms.” By beginning the year using a distance learning model open the school year and to help us transition back to face-to-face learning when it’s safe to do so.

How will distance learning look? 

Schools officials have vowed that the new distance learning model will be significantly different from the crisis-response version that was used when schools closed throughout Colorado just before spring break in March.

“We heard from 1,067 students, parents and staff last spring about how we should improve distance learning if we had to use that model this year. Based on this feedback, our teams worked over the summer to improve our distance learning model,” according to the district’s announcement.

The distance learning model for the new school year is designed to offer: 

  • More synchronous or “live” classes on Google Meet;
  • More accountability for student learning;
  • New digital tools for early elementary; 
  • Enhanced two-way communication with students and families;
  • More home internet access options for families; and
  • More support for families and students to learn how to use district tools and technology and support students in distance learning.

Learn more about the model here.

The new school year is to begin with a week of required orientation starting Monday, Aug. 17 when students and families are to connect with their crews, check out Chromebooks, and receive training on the various platforms that will be used to deliver instruction.

Regular daily schedules and live online classes are to begin Aug. 24.

The district’s lone charter school, Carbondale Community School, is still evaluating its return-to-school plan, and is expected to make a decision on Wednesday, July 29.

“We feel fortunate to have a strong community and the flexibility to develop a return-to-school plan that meets our mission, our overarching goal for the new school year, and our values,” CCS Principal Sam Richings-Germain wrote in a Saturday letter to parents. 

She said the goal is to restore in-person learning “to the greatest extent possible,” while adhering to public health requirements.

“We will be looking closely at the Roaring Fork School District’s plan for the return to school to re-evaluate and improve our working plan,” Richings-Germain wrote.

Ross Montessori, Two Rivers opt for classroom model

Meanwhile, the state charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale and Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs announced to parents and students last week that they plan to start the new school year on Aug. 17 with in-school, face-to-face learning, but with a “learn-from-home” model for those who choose that option.

In this August 2019 file photo, students and parents meet outside of Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“There is no perfect plan for reopening schools amid a pandemic,” TRCS Head of School Jamie Nims said in a Thursday video-conference presentation to parents, acknowledging that “some students, families and staff are anxious and apprehensive about reopening, and some aren’t.”

TRCS will offer in-school instruction, but parents will be able to opt for remote distance learning if they choose to for health reasons, Nims said.

Strict public health protocols will be in place, including mandatory face coverings for students, teachers and staff while inside the building, and the standard 6-foot distancing to be maintained both in and outside the building. Students and staff will undergo health screenings every morning to make sure they do not have symptoms of the coronavirus.

TRCS plans a “soft open” for the first week of school, Aug. 17-21, with half days for students who will be separated into different cohorts, or pods of no more than 25 students, depending on how many families opt for remote learning.

There will be no school on Aug. 21, then a full opening the week of Aug. 24 with students still separated into pods.

Similarly, Ross Montessori will have a “soft start” for the first week before transitioning to full-time school days and weeks. Principal Sonya Hemmen wrote in a letter to parents that the school will have a virtual town hall within the next few weeks to answer questions.

Several area private religious schools, including St. Stephen Catholic School and Ambleside at Skylark in Glenwood Springs, and Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt, are planning a return to in-person classroom instruction for the new school year.

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