The health of students and staff at Aspen Elementary School will be scrutinized on a daily basis after it opens to in-person learning Sept. 8.
A key part of the Aspen School District’s tentative plans to reopen the elementary school is how it will respond in the event of one positive case or a COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’re educating kids in cohorts and if somebody is exposed, the whole cohort could wind up in quarantines, whether it’s the teachers or the kiddos,” Superintendent David Baugh said in an interview last week.
Middle and high schools are set to begin online courses Aug. 31. Those schools won’t open to in-person attendance.
The board of education said they will revisit the learning plans every two or four weeks to determine whether to keep the existing ones in place or expand classroom capabilities. Those decisions will be primarily informed by case counts and trends in Pitkin County, as well as the health of the student body and staff.
The school district’s response plans are based on recommendations from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as guidelines Pitkin County Public Health created last week.
“Parental cooperation is essential,” Baugh said at Monday’s meeting. “Checking your child’s health before coming to school to protect the cohort is imperative because according to guidance, if one kiddo or teacher is manifesting symptoms, we could shut the whole cohort down. And if enough cohorts shut down, we have to shut down the school, and we don’t want to do that.”
Baugh unveiled the plan Monday at the board of education meeting, and it includes the kindergarten through fourth-graders attending classes spread throughout the campus’s elementary, middle and high school buildings.
The elementary school’s hybrid model of instruction has children divvied up into 10-student cohorts. One set of the cohorts would attend class on Mondays and Tuesdays; the other set on Thursdays and Fridays.
Wednesdays would be used for meeting and planning time. On days they are not attending class, students are expected to work remotely.
Parents also have been given the option to put children in class on a remote basis only.
Principal Chris Basten said spreading 530 students and 70 teachers throughout the three buildings is the most preferable situation now.
“It became a deductive flow here where we realized that with the conditions that we have right now, our teaching staff and many, many of our families were not comfortable having their children in classrooms with 20 to 23 other kids where it is mathematically impossible to social distance them,” he said at the meeting, “and we knew, and I felt, that if we could get our cohorts we could social distance in the classrooms. That will increase teacher confidence in the process and in coming back to work these days.
“And then are going to continue to monitor the situation.”
Scenarios could mean quarantining cohorts or shutting down school to in-person classes, according to guidelines set by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:
• In the event that one student attending school tests positive for COVID-19, that student must stay home until released from isolation, while the afflicted pupil’s classmates must stay home for a 14-day quarantine. They must also clear certain criteria to return to in-person learning.
• A teacher or staff member confirmed with virus also must stay home until released from isolation, while their cohort students also would need to stay home for 14-day quarantine.
• If two students from separate households test positive and are in the same cohort, the same isolation and quarantine measures would be in place, while the district “considers a school-wide testing event,” according to the CDPHE.
• If those numbers increase to three, the school could considering closing if it “interferes with the ability of the school to operate,” say the guidelines.
• A 14-day school closure would happen if 5% of the student body and staff is confirmed with COVID-19 within the same 14-day period.
A full set of criteria is available at https://covid19.colorado.gov.
Daily school guidelines are ample and include many of the same practices the public has undertaken including mandatory face-coverings, social distancing, changing the way we sneeze (elbow or tissue only, not hands), daily temperature checks before going to class, and staying home with any COVID-19 symptoms.
Cohort students also will be given regular breaks to wash their hands. They won’t be allowed to share food during lunch, which will be eaten in the classroom or outside.
Students will be restricted to their learning pods; co-mingling of cohorts will not be allowed.