Aspen’s Cottage Preschool remains closed as officials await more testing results

The Aspen Cottage Preschool will remain indefinitely closed after a student tested positive for COVID-19.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Cottage Preschool will tentatively remain closed this week out of public-safety concerns related to COVID-19, Superintendent David Baugh said Tuesday night.

School officials also met with members of the Aspen Education Association, which represents teachers at the public schools, on Tuesday night to chart a plan moving forward.

The district closed the Cottage on Friday after one of its students had tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Four students from a cohort, which includes the youngster who tested positive, and five adults have been in quarantine since the district learned of the case Thursday night. The Cottage began its fall season Aug. 19 using a cohort system.

With just three test results from those who are in quarantine, the district isn’t ready to open the preschool, Baugh said. The three tests came back negative and the trend is encouraging, but “with no new data and because of an abundance of caution, the Cottage will remain closed,” Baugh said.

The district is waiting for news on the other test results, Baugh said. The county’s public health department also suggested two other people who had been in the building, but were not part of the exposed cohort, get tested because of possible exposure.

“There were two with very remote chances of exposure and (Pitkin County Health) just suggested that they get tested,” Baugh said.

All told, as many as 11 people have been asked to voluntarily be tested, Baugh said, noting he was unsure if they all did. If all tests come back negative this week, the Cottage could reopen ahead of time.

“We thought we would get some tests results this morning, and then at 5 (Tuesday),” Baugh said. “That also speaks to the national problem with testing — it can take two, three or four days to get the tests back.”

When the school district closed the Cottage Preschool on Friday, Baugh said the tentative plan was to not reopen it until Sept. 8, the same day Aspen Elementary School is scheduled to begin its cohort approach to classroom instruction.

The entire Cottage Preschool, which has a staff of 18, was closed although its students were attending in cohorts. Baugh said Friday the full building closure was done to err on the side of caution.

Staffing at the preschool, whose students include children of staff and faculty, also is a concern because some of the instructors lined up other work or commitments after they were informed the facility would not open until next week. Baugh said there appears to be staffing power to reopen the school.

In the meantime, the district sent an email to the school community Tuesday emphasizing changes to the campus because of the coronavirus. Among the differences between this school year and previous ones is that volunteers won’t be allowed on campus and parents can’t bring items to school for children, such as forgotten homework or meals, after class begins.

“We will ensure your children are not penalized for ‘forgetting’ work as long as it is brought in reasonably soon,” said the newsletter, which was signed by Baugh, and added that children will be fed if they forget to bring their lunch to school.

The public bicycle trail will be redirected during school hours, the newsletter said, noting “this is a truly closed campus.”

The district also is asking households to take a daily pledge that their children’s health has been checked before going to school. The district said it will send a pledge link to households by 6:30 each morning.

“We’re trying to change the mindset,” Baugh said, “and the mindset is we’re all personally responsible for one another.”

The school district has a mandatory face-covering policy its school board adapted Aug. 17. The mask zone encompasses both the interior of campus buildings and outside areas like playgrounds and athletic fields.

“Masks are required for all folks on ASD property, including buses, vans, etc., mask breaks will occur outside as needed,” reads the board resolution.

Exempt from the mask zone are children younger than 2 years old, those who are eating and drinking while at least 6 feet from another person, and any person with health problems that are exacerbated by wearing a face covering.

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