Aspen schools keep juggling in-person learning schedule after holiday break |

Aspen schools keep juggling in-person learning schedule after holiday break

Latest COVID surge in Pitkin County has Aspen School District officials adjusting plans; nearly 600 students, staff tested Thursday

Aspen Elementary School will be fully operational Monday while the middle school does a balancing act and the high school stays in a remote-learning mode ahead of the winter break.

In the latest class schedule unveiled by the Aspen School District on Thursday, Superintendent David Baugh said the plan comes amid “rising COVID-19 levels, current guidelines and numerous discussions with medical advisors, health departments and teacher leadership.”

The three schools have been hosting class instruction remotely this week on the heels of last week’s Thanksgiving break and an increase in coronavirus cases countywide.

The holiday break starts Dec. 21 with class back in session Jan. 4.

The final stretch of the year calls for the middle school’s fifth- and sixth-graders resuming the hybrid model next week, with one group attending school on-campus and the other being taught remotely. They will flip the scenarios the week of Dec. 14-18.

Seventh- and eight-graders in the middle school, as well as the entire student body of the high school, will continue online class for the next two weeks before the break.

The Cottage preschool, which is located on the main campus, will remain open.

Also Thursday, the district tested nearly 600 students and staff for COVID-19. In the event that students or teachers test positive, Baugh said it would not force cohorts or grades into quarantine because students and teachers have not been together in a classroom setting since before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Baugh said at Monday’s board of education meeting they would let the community know by Thursday about next week’s plan to give people time to prepare.

That’s what the school administration did, but the Aspen Education Association, the spokes-group for public schools teachers, is calling for clear guidelines so the entire school community can stay informed in real time.

The AEA is advocating for the implementation of a COVID-19 dial unique to the district so that it has its own metrics to determine whether students should be learning remotely or in-person.

It would be similar to the proposal introduced by the Colorado Education Association on Nov. 19.

“We feel like the CEA guidelines are a good place to start,” said the AEA’s Stephanie Nixon at Monday’s board meeting.

The state association, which represents more than 39,000 educators, is advocating for the dial to debut the first week of the new year.

“School districts need clear metrics and thresholds to drive their decision-making. Parents, students and educators need to be able to quickly and easily navigate the dial to be able to prepare for and understand when our schools will be fully or partially re-opened and when they’ll be closed and why,” Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association, said in a statement.

Nixon suggested the Aspen district could model its dial after the one CEA is proposing. A dial updated daily would be a tool beneficial to students, parents and teachers anxious for timely updates, she said.

“The communication, although it is improving, is still coming at late hours of the night, forcing all of our staff to work later hours,” Nixon said, adding the uncertainly about the schools’ status “causes more stress” for those involved.

Baugh said Thursday he is open to the idea.

“School environments are different than the larger environments, and the transmission rates are lower among students, and our teachers seem to be really following the guidance, for the most part, so I think that if we had the bandwidth to support our own dial, it’s not a bad idea,” he said.

Under the CEA’s proposal, the guidelines would be based on the positivity rates in the county where the district is located.

Schools could remain fully open if the dial is in the green zone, which would mean a vaccine is accessible and there haven’t been any new COVID-19 cases within 14 days.

The blue zone would represent a 1% infection rate with schools open to in-person learning and remote learning also available; the same scenario would play out with the brown zone (3%).

A 5% infection rate would push the dial into orange and close schools to in-person instruction; the same would apply in the red zone, which would mean a rate of 6% or greater.

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