While school districts elsewhere are tightening their formats as Colorado’s counties trend upward on the COVID-19 status dial, Buena Vista’s schools plan to keep kids in class and to reopen in person after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Two cases were identified at Buena Vista Middle School Nov. 21, but Superintendent Lisa Yates says they have little impact on in-person learning due to the timing of Thanksgiving break. A small group of students and staff have been placed in quarantine until Friday, Nov. 27, with a second group of students slated to quarantine until Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, the Salida School District decided to close classes the week of Thanksgiving and move to remote learning the week of Nov. 30 — primarily as a breather for staff who have been doubling up on responsibilities.
“The reality is that we have no more tricks up our sleeves or creative solutions to stretch staffing to cover classes,” Salida Superintendent David Blackburn told families. “Teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff have all been covering each other’s shifts and any gaps that appeared… We are going to take a break and get everyone back in the driver’s seat. Then we will work to get back into our classrooms as soon as possible.”
Elsewhere, most of the state’s larger districts have either gone to remote learning, or plan to make the change as of Nov. 30.
Denver Public Schools, for example, are going fully remote Nov. 30 because of increasing COVID-19 rates and quarantines that have tipped the scales on staff shortages – making in-person learning no longer workable. Frustrated and tired, education officials have been juggling state quarantine rules with pressure from parents to remain open, along with pressure from teachers and unions to maintain safe work environments.
Yet the Buena Vista district has remained a relative oasis among Colorado’s public schools, opening to in-person learning in August and maintaining that status with quarantines as needed in the elementary, middle and high schools.
“This is an intentional decision,” Yates wrote to parents Nov. 20. “We recognize Salida School District has chosen a different path forward with a shift to remote learning the week after break. “We will continue to use our effective strategy of strong mitigation in our buildings along with target quarantine to support our community in reducing transmission.”
Yates echoed the strong advice from state and county officials, who are asking people to not travel for Thanksgiving. Local officials have been imploring people to cancel their gatherings in addition to masking and social-distance protocols in an effort to prevent business closures and the possibility of schools having to move to remote learning.
“While not recommended, we understand families or individuals may need to travel or interact with extended family/friends over Thanksgiving and there may be increased risk of transmission for those who do,” she said.
“There is a recommendation in our county for self-quarantine after travel, except for those who are a critical business/workflow. Schools are identified as critical businesses and so staff are an exception to this self-quarantine,” added Yates. “Families who travel and decide to self-quarantine will do so as “absences” and we will work with families as we do for typical absent students, not “remote learning.”
Chaffee County remained in Level Yellow as of Nov. 24 while 22 counties occupied the red zone (severe risk) and multiple others, including Lake County, moved into orange status (high risk). Level Purple (extreme) was recently added to the high end of the scale.
As school districts elsewhere move to more remote learning, Gov. Jared Polis has urged schools to continue in-person learning for preschool and elementary students, citing data showing that transmission in the lower grades is lower than many other activities. Hybrid or remote learning is recommended for higher grades at those schools as counties move into higher restrictions.