Aspen School District takes a “layered” approach to virus mitigation |

Aspen School District takes a “layered” approach to virus mitigation

School opening plan includes mask, vaccine requirements to help avoid quarantines

Students participate on Nov. 6, 2020, in COVID-19 testing on the Aspen School District campus. (Rick Carroll / The Aspen Times)

Aspen School District plans to take a “layered” approach to COVID-19 mitigation that requires masks and staff vaccination but also includes distancing, testing and isolation policies for the 2021-22 school year, according to an opening plan released Thursday.

The opening plan largely aligns with school reopening guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, supplemented by input from Pitkin County Public Health.

The aim is “to make school as close to normal as possible” with a focus on preserving in-person learning throughout the year, the plan states. The first day of school is Aug. 25 for the district.

Universal indoor masking — regardless of vaccination status — will be required for all people age 2 and older at all schools in the district at the beginning of the school year.

Individual schools and child care providers can reevaluate that requirement Oct. 1 if at least 70% of the facility’s population is vaccinated, the county incidence rate is below 50 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period and the entity has consulted with the county public health department.

The Pitkin County Board of Health approved the county-wide school and child care mask mandate at a meeting Thursday. Masks also are required on school buses, in alignment with a nationwide mask mandate on public transit; the district plans to offer separate bus runs for elementary school and secondary school students.

All district staff will be required to show proof of vaccination or be in the process of becoming fully vaccinated by Thursday. That policy was announced Aug. 9 in an internal email to school employees, marking a shift from earlier district communications that established an expectation (but not a requirement) for staff to get vaccinated.

A vaccine clinic scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at Aspen Middle School will help any employees who have not yet been vaccinated get the ball rolling. Staff who cannot or will not prove they are fully vaccinated must wear masks and also be tested biweekly with a BinaxNOW rapid antigen test or another test if determined by the district, according to the opening plan.

BinaxNOW tests also will be used for onsite testing for symptomatic students and staff. When a student or staff member shows COVID-like symptoms, they will be immediately isolated and the district will notify the student’s family; employees will be required to take the test, and students will be tested with parent or guardian permission.

District policies for testing and isolation are still subject to revision pending guidance and input from Pitkin County Public Health.

Currently, the opening plan’s “decision matrix” for isolation of symptomatic individuals primarily revolves around two guidelines: those who test positive must isolate for 10 days, and those who test negative must be symptom-free for 24 hours before they return to school, regardless of vaccination status. Physician evaluation and symptom improvement can both help fast-track the return to school.

The district does not plan to implement the classroom-wide quarantines that frequently disrupted in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent David Baugh said in mid-July.

Other virus mitigation strategies for the 2021-22 school year include enhanced ventilation, 3-foot distancing where practicable, ongoing sanitization measures, a daily symptom checker and “frequent and regular review of operational plans for meeting the evolving COVID challenge,” the plan states.

Physical education and band and choir classes will occur outdoors with exceptions for inclement weather; teachers also can request outdoor classes for other subjects. The district also includes provisions for outdoor meals.

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