Teachers seek assurances from Roaring Fork District leaders that COVID response concerns will be addressed | PostIndependent.com

Teachers seek assurances from Roaring Fork District leaders that COVID response concerns will be addressed

Glenwood Springs Middle School students arrive to the school on a snowy Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Stress is becoming a big concern for teachers in the Roaring Fork School District, as the Glenwood Springs-Carbondale-Basalt schools enter the fourth week since students began returning to in-person classes under COVID-19 protocols.

On Monday, a group of Roaring Fork Community Education Association (RFCEA) members met with district leadership to raise concerns about teacher workload, as well as COVID quarantine and testing procedures.

“We are hopeful that the issues will be addressed in a meaningful way,” said Rob Norville, a Glenwood Springs High School science teacher and vice president for the RFCEA, the district’s Colorado Education Association chapter.

The RFCEA directly represents roughly half of the district’s 400 or so teachers through union membership but seeks to serve as a voice for teacher concerns in general.

Specifically, as it relates to schools operating under the current COVID restrictions, Norville said RFCEA members would like to see the district follow the Aspen School District’s lead in providing voluntary COVID testing for teachers and students.

That should be an integral component of the district’s strategy to keep schools open, he said.

“We maintain that school closure decisions should be based on the best available science and guidance from public health experts, with clear metrics for when we will shift from one model to another,” Norville said.

Aside from that, the RFCEA wants the local school board and district leadership to consider the sustainability of the current situation as COVID-19 cases numbers rise and classroom quarantines and school closures become routine.

Not only teachers, but some parents and area health professionals have called for a return to some sort of statistical metrics-based system for deciding when/if schools should close, and have students return to distance learning.

Already, with the return of K-3 students the week of Oct. 19, followed by grades 4-8 Oct. 26 and high schools Nov. 4, the COVID “yo-yo” routine has been in full effect, with classes, and in the case of Roaring Fork High School this week, whole schools reverting to remote learning for 14-day quarantine periods.

Whenever a COVID-19 case is confirmed or suspected, and that individual has been in a school for any period of time, affected students, teachers and staff are sent back home to quarantine for two weeks and continue with remote online instruction.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, as it has in Garfield Re-2 and other districts that have been in classrooms since the start of the school year, Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein wrote in a report to the school board for its regular Wednesday evening meeting.

“… All grade levels are back in schools (and), so far, things have been relatively normal — given we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Stein wrote. “However, we are still learning how to navigate the challenges of managing health and safety procedures, dealing with the disruptions of isolation and quarantine, and all of the changes from school as we used to know it.”

Later this week, the district plans to launch its own online data “dashboard” designed to share information about the number of students and staff who are in quarantine, and who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have been asked about our metrics for transitioning back to distance learning,” Stein also wrote.

As it stands, though, “we do not have a predetermined threshold for reverting to distance learning, but are working closely with public health and local medical experts as well as tracking internal data to determine when the level of risk in our schools warrants a transition back to distance learning.”

Instead, those decisions are based on regular meetings with public health officials, local physicians and other medical experts to discuss current conditions, Stein said.

“We’re also monitoring the level of disruption caused by quarantines, isolations, transitions between in-person and distance learning, and program or school closures,” he added.

That’s chief among the concerns for the RFCEA members, Norville said.   

“Many teachers are overwhelmed with the tasks they are being asked to perform as they struggle to provide high-quality coverage of classes and other duties for teachers who have been quarantined or cannot teach in person because of health concerns,” he said.

“We have very real concerns that the situation we’ve been put in will lead to several teachers leaving their jobs before the school year is over because of the stress caused by these expectations.”

Staffing concerns, and a critical shortage of substitute, or “guest” teachers, will also be a topic of discussion for the school board on Wednesday.

“We have incurred some resignations due to the return to in-person learning, including two teachers and three classified staff members,” Stein included in his report to the board.

For now, the district has approximately 40 active guest teachers, down from the usual 150, Stein said.

The district has worked to expedite the approval of a long-term roving guest teacher at each school site, and Glenwood High School has been approved for two given its larger size, he said.

The school board meets at 5:30 p.m Wednesday via Zoom, including time set aside for public comments.


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