Students back in class for the start of the semester — for now
Roaring Fork School District students ushered their way back into classrooms Tuesday, joining their Garfield Re-2 School District peers who had done the same the day before.
Coal Ridge High School Athletic Director Ben Kirk said the Titans’ first day was like most others — some absences, but not an abnormal amount for the return from winter break with the added layer of a recent heavy snowfall.
“We do have some kids and some teachers out today, but everything’s running pretty smooth and pretty normal,” Kirk said. “Right now it feels just fine.”
Kirk, however, noted uncertainty around the current COVID rate increase, saying, “No one knows where we’re at on the spike, if that picks up or if we’re on the tail end and clear sailing.”
It’s the same uncertainty that prompted Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Rob Stein to issue a letter to parents on New Year’s Eve outlining the strategies the district is taking over the first weeks of the semester, what a potential transition to distance learning looks like and what would happen to trigger such a move.
“I think we’ve learned, as we enter our third calendar year dealing with COVID, not to make empty promises about what a great year it’s going to be,” Stein said. “The omicron variant is hitting us fast and apparently hard, and so we’ve had to do a lot of work over the last few days to be ready for that.”
Garfield County reported a single-day high of 165 new cases of the virus on Dec. 29 and surpassed 120 two more times in the next four days. Before that week, the highest number of cases reported throughout the entirety of the pandemic was 101 on Dec. 10, 2020.
The first subhead of the letter reads, “Striving to maintain in-person learning, but preparing for distance learning as needed.” It names staffing as the “limiting factor” for keeping students in classrooms.
It reads that classes, grades or entire schools might need to transition to distance learning if the ability to deliver quality education in a safe manner isn’t attainable. If the district is unable to provide sufficient supervision, maintain cleanliness or provide reliable transportation, distance learning is on the table.
“I wouldn’t say there’s one person (who’s absence could cause a shift to distance learning), but there could be, ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back,’” Stein said.
Both districts are in the process of operationalizing new guidelines passed down from the Centers for Disease Control to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The highlight is a reduction of isolation time from 10 days to five for qualifying exposures.
“The changes in the CDC guidelines, they’re really pretty positive for us,” Garfield Re-2 School District Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said. “It means that our staff that might test positive that are asymptomatic could come back in five days as opposed to 10, and that’s going to be huge for us keeping buildings open and school in session so that kids continue in-person learning.”
The hope, Stein has continued to say throughout the spike, is that the omicron variant follows a similar trajectory in the United States as it did in South Africa, where it was first detected — a steep spike followed by a steep taper off. He expressed a hope that the current situation would be resolved in a matter of weeks.
But it hasn’t stopped the district from stepping up safety measures. Schools were asked to not host full-student-body assemblies, full-staff meetings or other large-group gatherings for January. The district has also discussed limitations on sports spectatorship, but nothing has been decided on that front yet.
So, as the two-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches in March, COVID-19 is still impacting the lives of students and teachers.
“I think I speak for a lot of people when I say we’re sick of it at this point,” Glenwood Springs High School senior Ray Rosenmerkel told the Post Independent in December, before the recent spike. “It hasn’t been about the school’s policies and personally, if I need to wear a mask to go to school, fine, I’ll wear a mask. But we’re just really all hoping this stuff ends up calming down. “I’m just kind of along for the ride at this point.”
Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or email@example.com.
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