Aspen schools haven’t cancelled class yet
Editor’s Note: As of 8:25 a.m. Friday, Aspen School District made the decision to cancel classes March 16 through 20. Click here to read more about the school closure.
The Aspen School District as of Thursday night had yet to cancel classes against the backdrop of coronavirus concerns that prompted it earlier in the day to call off what it called “nonessential events and gatherings in order to support ‘social distancing,’ which helps to contain the spread of the virus.”
In an email to staff and faculty, interim Superintendent Tom Heald said for the time being the district was following state guidelines when it comes to closing the district’s five academic buildings, which include the preschool, elementary, middle and high schools; and the K-8 Aspen Community School in Woody Creek.
The state can order school closures under its criteria, and Heald’s email said the district will close in the event that a district staff member or student tests positive for the virus.
“For the Aspen School District, we will consider a positive infection at any school a positive infection at all schools,” his email said.
A public health order released at 8:34 p.m. Thursday by Eagle, Garfield, and Pitkin counties prohibiting gatherings and events of more than 50 people said schools were excluded.
“At this point, we are not recommending closing schools, but we are watching the outbreak closely and may determine that school closures are necessary,” said a collective statement from the three counties’ public health departments. “Schools, parents and employers should take steps now to prepare for the possibility of prolonged mandatory closures. In particular, schools should plan for how to continue to provide non-educational support for their students such as providing food, developmental disability support, and school-based health care.”
Heald met with administrators and some staff Thursday and they were intending to meet Friday morning about the district’s operational status, people with knowledge of the situation said.
One teacher, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a concern among faculty is that by the time someone at the schools tests positive for the virus, “we have now exposed other teachers and students.”
Teacher-parent conferences were held as scheduled Thursday and were planned Friday; classes were not in session those days. Class is scheduled to resume Monday at the ASD, with spring break set March 23 to 30.
School districts can decide to shut down without meeting the state’s criteria for a mandatory closure. As of Thursday, 10 visitors from Australia were under containment after tests results showed they were presumptive positive for COVID-19.
“We’re continuing to monitor what’s happening and inviting local governments on when to close schools and canceled mass gatherings, and other actions people should take, but I will say, each community is specific,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a media briefing Thursday. “Each community has different levels of cases right now. … We’re giving basic guidance but if the locals feel they need to go further, we’re absolutely supporting them.”
The Aspen district has scaled back events including Aspen High School’s production of “Guys and Dolls” at the District Theater. The weekend run was canceled. Thursday night, the musical was not open to the public but was performed by its student-actors and musicians and broadcast by GrassRoots TV. Nearly 150 people were watching the livestream, which will be posted on GrassRoots’ YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The Colorado High School Activities Association also has canceled all CHSAA sanctioned events through April 6, effective immediately for the Aspen School District and Aspen High School.
Heald could not be reached for comment Thursday, but his email said the district was following Gov. Jared Polis’ guidelines that would trigger a state-ordered school closure, including:
• Any school (includes preschools and child care centers) in Colorado with a single confirmed case of COVID-19 in a staff or student will close for a minimum of 72 hours for cleaning and social distancing.
• Any schools that are closed will partner with their local public health agency to conduct contact tracing and further COVID-19 testing.
• Any school with a second confirmed case of COVID-19 in a staff or student within a 30-day period requires a second minimum 72-hour closure for cleaning, testing and public health investigation.
• Any school with three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in staff or students within a 30-day period requires a closure for a minimum of 14 days.
• If three schools in a district have confirmed cases of COVID-19 within a 30-day period, all schools within the district are required to close for a minimum of 14 days for cleaning, testing and public health investigation.
Other school districts to close include Gunnison Watershed School District Community, which said it would suspend classes Friday. That district includes the Marble Charter School on the outskirts of Pitkin County. The Gunnison district did not yet have confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 4:40 p.m. Thursday, according to The Denver Post. Denver Public Schools announced Thursday it would close for three weeks, and Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley school districts also are closing for extended times.
Colorado Mountain College, which has a campus in Aspen, said it would extend its current spring break by one week, for students only, through March 20.
CMC said it would be moving its credit, English as a second language and GED/HSE classes to “an online or Webex environment for a period of three weeks” beginning March 23 and running through April 12. CMC will determine in April whether to return to in-person classes or conduct them remotely for the rest of the semester.
Non-credit courses at CMC have been canceled and prorated refunds are being provided. The status of non-credit courses scheduled to begin after April 12 is undetermined.
“We believe this temporary change in our operations is in the best interest of our students, our employees and our community members,” said Carrie Besnette Hauser, CMC president and CEO, in a statement.
CMC buildings are open to faculty, staff and students only. From Thursday to April 12, campuses are closed to the general public, including groups with planned events on campus.
More information on CMC’s response to the COVID-19 virus are at coloradomtn.edu/covid19.
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