Aspen schools join growing list of closures |

Aspen schools join growing list of closures

Aspen Elementary School.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Aspen’s public school system shut down Friday and will roll next week’s closure into the March 23 to 30 spring break in what has become an expanding community-wide effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing.

Friday morning’s announcement by interim Superintendent Tom Heald confirmed what a number of parents and staff had expected while awaiting the official word.

Roaring Fork and Garfield Re-2 schools districts — which include public schools Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Silt and Rifle — also announced closures next week leading into their March 19 to 29 spring breaks.

Heald said the decision to close the Aspen schools came after consulting with state officials, noting in an email to the school community that “today provides a bit of time for the ASD community to reassure each other that we are safe — there is much fear tied to this viral event — and to have time together prior to a two-week separation (that) will give each and every one of our staff time to share stories, have closure and construct meaning for how to navigate this new normal of social isolation.”

During a media briefing Friday, Heald said the school facilities and vehicles will undergo a “deep cleaning” next week. Nearly the entire staff and faculty will be away from the campus during the closure, he said.

“We will have a few staff who are necessary for operations and management of the district who will be here during that time,” he said. “But for all the rest of the staff, the message is that we don’t want you on campus during this window of full closure.”

In an email to faculty and staff, Heald ruled out online class instruction because the district “is not currently prepared to implement a fully compliant distance learning model on short notice.”

He also noted that undertaking an online model at this time would not create a level playing field for those enrolled at the 1,728-student district, which includes an on-campus preschool and the K-8 Aspen Community School in Woody Creek. That’s partly because not all students would have ready access to learning materials, technology and WiFi, and also because students, parents and teachers aren’t adequately trained, the email said.

“If educational services are being delivered to students in any form, those services must be provided to all students, including students who don’t have access to technology at home and students receiving special education, English Language Learning, and Gifted and Talented services,” the email said. “At ASD, it will make more sense to cancel school altogether than to organize a learning model that cannot be accessed equitably by all students.”

Schools principals emailed parents about steps moving forward, including a list of suggested educational websites, Chromebook apps and extensions for their children to use.

An email from Liz Meador, the interim principal of Aspen Middle School, urged parents to “monitor your child’s use of social media, and encourage educational tools instead of just video games. Remind your child of our school’s commitment to being good digital citizens. Finally, we trust that our students will be reading, writing and thinking about important topics with you every day!”

Aspen Elementary School Principal Chris Basten reminded parents that teachers won’t have an online presence next week “so that they can attend to their own well-being and that of their families and loved ones.”

As of Friday, the Pitkin County and Basalt libraries remained open to the public.

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