Aspen Middle School returns to remote learning

Aspen Middle School.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

With 50 students and another 20 staff members in quarantine, Aspen Middle School will return to remote learning Wednesday.

The five-member Aspen school board on Monday backed Superintendent David Baugh’s recommendation to close in-person class at the school where two students have tested positive for COVID-19. It’s not a matter of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the school district, but an instance of what board member Katy Frisch and Baugh agreed is a “quarantine outbreak” spurred by the limited degrees of separation among local students, faculty, relatives and residents.

“I think we all knew that late fall/early winter would be bad,” Baugh said during the board of education’s meeting. “But I don’t think anybody thought it would be this bad, whether it’s in Pitkin County or across the nation.”

Call it a domino effect, a ripple effect or trickle-down effect, school district leaders said they are learning quickly that a single coronavirus carrier’s exposure to other individuals can result in multiple quarantine situations and scenarios.

As of Monday, the middle school, which has 449 students enrolled, had a combination of 70 students and staff quarantined. The 552-pupil high school, which returned to remote learning last week, as of Monday had six students with COVID-19, while 77 students and 26 of its staff members were under quarantine. Plans call for the elementary school to remain fully open with in-person instruction. Eighty of the elementary school’s students and 13 of its staff are in quarantine; one student has the virus, according to Baugh.

“Some of that quarantined staff is because their children are quarantined,” Baugh said.

Pitkin County Public Health — not the school district — makes the call on whom gets quarantined.

Both the middle and high schools find themselves in remote learning situations after students and teachers, through a two-cohort system, returned to class Oct. 27. Each of the two cohorts had been switching between remote and in-person learning modes one week at a time.

The elementary school is fully operating in the in-person mode with plans to remain that way through the end of the week.

School officials will revisit the situations of the elementary and high schools by Nov. 28 or 29, the weekend after Thanksgiving break, which is Nov. 23 to 27. They’ll re-examine the high school’s status by Dec. 4.

“Keep in mind that we will keep our schools open by our behavior,” said Frisch.

The district plans to continue testing asymptomatic students and staff through the end of the year. Testing began on-campus earlier this month, and have helped provide a detriment to further spread.

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