Buena Vista School District (BVSD) Superintendent Lisa Yates and Buena Vista High School (BVHS) Principal Jon Ail were the guests at a two-hour Chaffee County Patriots meeting last week, attended by some 50 community members, and led by Patriots VP Brian O’Connell. They answered a list of prepared questions, as well as questions submitted during the meeting by the audience.
The last fifteen minutes became interesting when some audience questions regarding identifying transgender students and adding cameras to classrooms generated distinct audience reactions. Many disapproved of some of the questions and the implications of those questions. An attendee inquired about keeping teachers’ political views out of the classroom, and another asked about getting access to the school libraries; presumably to check out what books could be found there. In the final “mixed bag” there were some obvious disinformation questions about COVID vaccines and the vaccinated “shedding spike proteins.”
1. School policies regarding COVID; Masks, vaccines, testing for COVID, quarantine?
Yates explained that every Monday at 8:00 a.m., the district posts their Monday Minute for families and community members to view. The Minute includes a chart of COVID cases at all schools, as well as updates on school events and reminders. Yates also hosts a weekly virtual meeting on Mondays at 5:00 p.m. that is open to all families to hear more about the status of learning in the school and to ask questions. More information about those meetings can be found in the Monday Minute newsletters.
“They have that weekly opportunity” if families have concerns or questions, she explained.
This year, the district is using “targeted masking,” meaning that those in close contact with a positive case for an extended period are asked to wear a mask. She added that they are leaving that up to teachers, as they know best when that’s happened.
“We know [quarantining after exposure] is always a layer we can add on,” she added.
Yates emphasized that the district is committed to maintaining in-person education while not “recklessly operating the schools.”
“We absolutely support masking for staff and students who choose to do so,” she said. “We use testing if it supports students returning to school in a more timely way…We also defined, and this came out in the board resolution [last July], we really distinguished between routine and high-risk exposures.”
One attendee asked Yates and Ail about the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds the district received and how people can view how that money was spent. Yates explained that these ESSER funds have major restrictions on how they can be used and the district has to show how the funds are managed.
“As early as next week, it will be accessible on our website and you’ll be able to open up four different tabs to see where each of those dollars were spent.”
Generally, ESSER 1 went to emergency response and hiring additional staff. ESSER 2 went to supporting and maintaining that response, adding new tech infrastructure and maintaining mitigation practices. ESSER 3 has gone to professional learning and support.
2. Sex education curriculum and where is teaching material available to view?
Yates encouraged attendees to look at the state’s curriculum, which is the base for the district’s sexual education curriculum. The curriculum has seven major standards that are covered at various points
The district also uses curriculums from Communities that Care, Second Steps, and Life Skills to support education at different levels. Education from preschool through 7th grade focuses on healthy eating and activity, building healthy relationships, and building life skills. Sexual health education doesn’t start until eighth grade. In high school, students take a 9th-grade health class Life Skills and community partner involvement.
Ail added the big difference is the different social environments from middle school to high school. They address physical and nutritional health as well as drug use. He clarified that all the curriculum regarding sexual health gets sent to families before the unit and that they can opt-out if they want to.
Yates added that the District Accountability Committee (DAC) and the BV Partners Engaged Around Kids’ Success (BV PEAKS) review the district curriculum and offer their input, but do not have any decision power. Additionally, all the district’s curriculums are reviewed every five years with community input. The last curriculum review was in 2019.
House Bill 19-1032 stipulates that all districts need to implement a comprehensive sex education program or they could not teach it at all.
A submitted question asked how the district can assure parents that curriculum will not change and whether parents will be informed and involved if it does. Yates said that while she can’t assure the curriculum won’t change, the DAC and BV PEAKS are part of that process and that the district has an obligation to keep families involved.
Another attendee asked whether there is a section on internet and technology health, and Yates confirmed there is.
3. District’s goals and objectives for 2022/2023 school year?
Yates pointed to the Board of Education’s ENDS, which can be found on the district website. Additionally, the district has a Student-Centered Accountability Program (SCAP) website, where the district’s strategic priorities, system supports, and measures for student success can be found.
4. District criteria for evaluating teacher and administrator performance?
Yates broke down the process for evaluating teachers and administrators into three categories: Professional Practice, their Profile of a Professional (which includes reflective practice and employee qualities), and Student Learning Outcomes. Ail added that those interested in more information could look on the district website to see what principals and evaluators look at.
One attendee submitted a question asking how they keep teachers’ political views out of the classroom. Yates said they spent time with staff on policies on handling current events in the classroom. The policy allows teachers to facilitate conversations but not indoctrinate students.
Ail said he trusts staff to do right by their students. “I know that my staff would never do anything to indoctrinate a student or make them feel uncomfortable. We want to teach our students to think critically… Sometimes you have to put the tough topics on the table. We can’t ensure a perfect system, but we do everything we can to put the pieces in place to make sure our students are safe to think critically, to behave respectfully, and when it doesn’t go well we can back up and make a course correction as needed.”
Another asked whether Yates and Ail know every teacher in the district and school, respectively, and whether they know them well. Yates said she believes she does and that those relationships are a priority. Ail said he does, and that he works hard to get to know the staff in the building as a whole, not just the classroom.
The last question submitted asked about Yates’ and Ail’s opinions on adding camera monitors in the classroom “for protection” and to avoid “he said–she said” when accusations are made.
The question generated an undercurrent of disapproval. Without mentioning the obvious privacy issues, Yates said she trusts the staff, who have a responsibility to be part of their ongoing growth as professionals. She emphasized that there are unintended consequences to having cameras in classrooms, which Ail agreed with.
One audience member, a teacher, said putting a camera in a classroom would change how she taught and that it affects the relationship between teachers and their students.
Yates added that teachers already feel the questions and scrutiny from the public. “You add a camera to that,” she said, “I don’t know why anybody would stay in the classroom.”
“But doesn’t that apply the same to law enforcement?” asked a man in the back. “Why do we have cameras monitoring law enforcement?”
“We don’t consider our students to be criminals or people who may have violated the law,” Yates replied. “I think they are youth and we are here as citizens to help our youth grow. I don’t know whether you’re watching the students or watching the staff, but I think it would add a layer of culture that is already really hard to lead right now.”
Yates added that there are cameras in hallways for safety, but that using them to surveil teaching is a different purpose.
5. What does the district do well and what are areas for improvement?
Yates said that student strengths include their high satisfaction based on survey responses, elementary reading score growth over the last season (though the youngest students did struggle after missing a portion of 2020) and high school performance on state tests. The district is also doing well with activities and participation. Yates also said that students usually identified as low performers in the district are scoring higher than the same group of students across the state.
Ail said that from the SCAP review, relationships, emotional safety, and critical thinking all came up as strengths for students. Areas for growth included Math, Problem Solving, and Communication, as well as Early Reading.
For systems, the written curriculum is frequently identified as a strength, and instructional engagement is frequently identified as a place to grow, particularly for implementing challenges. Other strengths included relationships, professional growth opportunities.
“We have a very compliant student body,” Yates said. “It can be easy, as staff, to then give work that ends up in compliance. So, how do we really engage students to keep their minds active?”
One attendee wanted to know “how the district justifies offering no vocational programs for students not pursuing college.” Ail explained while the high school doesn’t have specific certificates or pathways, they do have “something that keeps it open and tries to meet the need of all of our students.”
He touched on the Shops program starting in middle school, how the district can connect students to people with skills they want to develop, and building an internship structure, to keep things open to all students and allow them to try at a young age.
Another asked if there was a process for seeking out local craftsmen for apprenticeships. Ail said that there is an effort to grow that opportunity, and he has been looking at how Cañon City models their apprenticeships.
6-7. What can Chaffee County Patriots do to support the BV school administration, and how can the Patriots help get parents and grandparents engaged?
Yates said she hoped there were more and more opportunities to engage with the community, and that she’d be happy to go anywhere to talk to people who want to know more about the district.
“Come to the events,” she said. “Talk to your neighbor, be connected, contribute, go to where they are…We love volunteers.”
She also pointed back to the district’s website, which has lots of information on the health and success of the district.
“Seek to understand us,” she said. “The national story about public education is not necessarily your local district’s reality.”
Other Questions Generating Reactions
There were a few questions about the recent sale of Chaffee County High School’s campus building. Yates said the school is not closing but moving. The building had been sold for $1.1 million and the district’s goal is to grow the space at the elementary and preschool.
One attendee asked if any funding had been turned down due to strings attached, and Yates said the district had only done that by not applying for certain grants. Another question wanted to know if the Colorado Association of School Board would be leaving the National School Board Association. Yates said that CASB would likely not be leaving NSBA.
The last portion of the meeting included questions submitted on index cards by the audience, described by O’Connell as a “mixed bag:”
- The first question asked, “What percentage of the district’s children are identified as transgender?” Both Yates and Ail both dismissed the question as something the district does not track.
- The next question was about whether the BV community could enter the schools’ libraries and how they would go about it.
“I assume the purpose would be to see what books are available,” Yates replied. “We can certainly arrange it as it hasn’t been asked before.”
“If you’re interested, maybe reach out to the school principal, ‘CC’ Lisa on it,” Ail added. “The librarian might want to be a part of that conversation to answer any questions, so we can try to set that up.”
- Next came a four-card series of questions. O’Connell asked the first three questions on card one in a row for Yates and Ail to reply to.
“Number one: why wear a mask? Discuss. Two: why is gene therapy necessary for an inoculation? Number 3: what would it take to get a new name? Lose ‘Demons.’ That’s card one.”
Yates said she wouldn’t give her personal opinion, “but in representing the district, we’ve left that up to individuals. Vaccines, that’s not involved in our district. We don’t ask for vaccination status. Last year, the community brought up the ‘Demon’ question, and the Board of Education, after listening to community input, voted to keep the mascot.”
The next question asked whether Yates was aware of PCR tests returning false positives.
“I’ve heard that,” Yates replied over the audience’s murmuring.
“I don’t know if you can answer this question,” O’Connell said of the next question. “What is the scientific answer/response to herd immunity?” A chuckle rolled through the audience, along with a few comments, and Yates did not answer that question.
“Last card. This one says, ‘According to the CDC, is there awareness of shedding/transmitting spike proteins from those vaccinated?”
“Our first slide was about COVID, and I’ll just reemphasize that our whole approach to COVID has been how do we mitigate risk while at the same time holding our responsibility to a community to providing academic and overall wellbeing,” Yates responded. “A lot of those things, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about because it is a big decision. I bear a big responsibility in opening the doors during a pandemic. So I have read a bit about that…Look at how we’re operating schools, and that would answer a lot of how we’re handling that.”