Aspen School District taking steps to make reopening plan for next month
A plan is in place to reopen the Aspen School District to students late next month. Well, a plan to make a plan, at least.
“The rough plan is that we are going to reopen as close to normal on Aug. 26. The planning is around the details of that opening,” new ASD superintendent David Baugh said Thursday. “The guidance around COVID keeps changing. If you want to know what to do with COVID, go back two weeks and you can find out what you should have done.”
Baugh, who is still unpacking after his recent move from Pennsylvania, attended his first Board of Education meeting Wednesday. The BOE normally doesn’t meet this time of year, but with so much uncertainty regarding reopening schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, normal isn’t a word used too often anymore.
Only days into the job, Baugh is in charge of a 55-person task force that will help determine how and when Aspen kids get back into the classroom, if they do at all.
“Nothing feels quite normal this year,” BOE president Susan Marolt said. “It’s just a process and no one really knows what it’s going to look like in another month. I think Pitkin County actually has done a very good job containing the virus, in spite of a lot of visitors. That’s a good thing, but it’s hard to say how that’s going to look in another few weeks.”
The task force, of which Marolt is not on, includes everything from teachers and administrators to students and medical experts. They will meet Wednesday morning to firm up details of their reopening plans. Baugh said he hopes to have a more concrete plan in place to tell parents and students around the first week of August.
Essentially, the task force is coming up with three plans. One plan has students back in the classroom full-time, while another includes a combination of in-person learning and online learning, and a third that is online only. The ASD went fully online this past spring when the initial stay-at-home orders were put in place as the virus broke out.
While there were some bumps along the way, the online learning was relatively smooth and they believe they can make that work if it comes to it this school year.
“It’ll be OK. It is not optimal. I don’t think anyone thinks that’s the best way to teach kids, particularly younger kids,” Marolt said of online learning. “It’s really difficult for the younger grades. But we were able to do it and we’ll be able to do it again and probably have learned some things along the way, which will help us be better at it. That’s all part of the process.”
If in-person learning does return this fall, it’s bound to look a lot different. Baugh said changes could include lots of masks, for students and teachers alike, limited visitors and no assemblies. Then there is the question of sports returning, something that will ultimately be determined by the Colorado High School Activities Association. As of now, CHSAA remains optimistic of a fall season happening; most sports are slated to start official practices Aug. 10.
Also during Wednesday’s BOE meeting, a proposal was approved to bring in a company to assess the schools’ HVAC systems to see if they could use bipolar ionization technology that will help kill airborne viruses, such as the ones that lead to COVID-19.
“If we get those sorts of plans in place, then we can adjust based on if the governor gives us some kind of criteria on if we can be open or not,” Marolt said. “If things change then we can be ready to change. That’s part of the plan. I think we just want to be really sensitive to our staff members, our students, our parents, and just make sure we are being conscious of what they have going on.”
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The Aspen School District board reached a consensus Monday to nix Aug. 26 as a starting date for in-person learning at Aspen Elementary School after an outcry from teachers who said the plan was premature, lacked clarity, and put the health of educators, staff and students at risk.