Aspen School District’s newest plan for fall includes in-person elementary learning Sept. 8 |

Aspen School District’s newest plan for fall includes in-person elementary learning Sept. 8

Aspen Elementary School technology integrator Dave Fuentes puts his mask on while preparing and distributing student’s laptops outside of the school on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen Elementary School students will “hopefully” begin in-person learning Sept. 8, while the middle and high schools will start remote class instruction Aug. 31, Superintendent David Baugh announced Friday.

Baugh unveiled the tentative plan for fall learning in an email sent to the Aspen School District community; it also was posted on the district’s website.

The plan also includes the entire district campus and its school buses being made a mandatory mask zone.

“Please keep in mind that all of our decisions will be based on the current conditions in our community,” Baugh’s email said, noting the district’s path will be influenced by recommendations from the Pitkin County Health Department, Colorado Department Education, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are looking forward to welcoming our students back to school, in whatever form that takes. We will strive to be flexible and positive in an unprecedented year in American education.”

The final draft of recommendations will advance to the school board Aug. 14 for review and Aug. 17 for approval, Baugh’s email said.

The autumn path for getting students back to school came after a Board of Education meeting Monday that was held both over the Zoom video platform and a live audience limited to 25 people in the high school’s seminar room.

At that meeting, teachers expressed dismay the district was considering Aug. 26 as the start date for in-person learning at the elementary school, where classes would be conducted with social distancing requirements and students, teachers and staff wearing masks, among other measures to safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief among the concerns of the teachers and their representative group Aspen Education Association are the health-risk factors involved, as well as not enough time to adequately prepare to start class before month’s end. About three-quarters of AEA’s teachers surveyed said they opposed starting in-person class in August.

Others, including a group of parents who presented a petition signed by 90 households in the district, urged school leaders to start in-person classes with safe protocols.

The result was Baugh and others forming what ended up being a 23-person task force comprised of parents, educators, administrators and other interests this week hammering out a rough plan brought to the public Friday.

The plan includes both middle and high schools having a soft-start to remote learning Aug. 26 before starting online class Aug. 31.

“There will be synchronous lessons and attendance will be taken,” Baugh’s announcement said. “Students who cannot attend during their scheduled class period will have an asynchronous option to watch the recorded lessons in order to stay on track.”

More details are to come for those students as well as their younger counterparts at the elementary school.

The elementary school “is working to bring students back to campus for in-person instruction,” Baugh’s email said. “We are discussing how we can most safely do this. This is a priority for us, but there are many considerations, including how many students can safely attend in an aging infrastructure and how to use space effectively in all of the buildings. We continue to seek guidance from Pitkin County Health Department. We look forward to presenting the option we feel works best for our students using the resources available. Because this is a complex issue with many moving parts, the start for these students will be delayed, hopefully with a firm start of Sept. 8.”

Baugh’s email announcement also encouraged people to play nice and do their homework about the district’s plans before making any conclusions.

“Recognizing these are unprecedented times, anger and ill will are not helpful to civil discourse and we appreciate folks really doing the reading of the plan before judging it,” the email said.