Aspen High School returns to remote learning; state eyes changes to district’s testing program |

Aspen High School returns to remote learning; state eyes changes to district’s testing program

Students participate Friday in COVID-19 testing on the Aspen School District campus. On Tuesday, the high school principal announced remote learning would resume immediately due to a rise in cases among the student body.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

Aspen High School is returning to remote learning due to a rise in coronavirus cases among students, officials said Tuesday.

“At this point I want to assure you that we have not had an outbreak at AHS,” read an email sent from Principal Sarah Strassburger to parents and students just before 2:20 p.m. “However, we have a growing number of students who have tested positive within our community, and one staff member who tested positive, both of which resulted in many people having to quarantine.”

The shift to remote learning, which is effective immediately, applies to all high school students and teachers and is planned through at least Dec. 4, a Friday.

“At that point we will re-evaluate the status of our school community and our learning model relative to COVID-19 positive cases and quarantines to see if a return to our hybrid model is safe for students and staff,” Strassburger’s email said.

Thanksgiving break is Nov. 23 to 27.

Reached Tuesday, Superintendent David Baugh said there was one positive case of COVID-19 among the 309 district students who received on-campus testing Friday. The middle school student is in quarantine and Pitkin County health officials are in the process of contacting other students who may have been exposed. Those students attended in-person class last week; this week they are learning remotely per the weekly hybrid system.

“That buys the school a little bit of a time and a lot of opportunities to address these issues,” Baugh said.

While last week’s on-campus tests revealed no positive cases among high school students, high schoolers tested elsewhere have come up positive. Baugh could not say how many students at the high school have the coronavirus.

“We have no high school students (with COVID-19) as a result of our testing, but we do have high school kids in the community who are being sidelined because of Halloween parties, some from their athletic endeavors,” he said.

Strassburger’s email said, “We have had several incidents where our students and staff have been infected or exposed due to outside events. Parties, social gatherings and group activities remain the primary source of transmission in our county, and these events are affecting our district.

“In addition, we have over 200 families who have opted to be fully remote, and the number of positive cases in our valley continues to rise. We do not want to further disrupt our students’ learning, so moving to a fully remote learning model is the best solution in terms of safety and effective instruction at this time.”

The school district’s testing program, which was rolled out last week, also could be seeing changes.

On Tuesday, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said state public health officials have told the county they are not prepared to support Aspen’s current school testing program through the end of the year with 1,800 to 2,000 Curative tests a week.

“There’s probably about two weeks of supply left for the school program,” Peacock said.

County officials plan to meet with their counterparts at the school district this week to talk about how they can support the district’s testing strategy and “keep the schools open,” Peacock said. The Binax tests — which are not as accurate as the Curative but provide an immediate result — might be able to be used in the school’s program or the county could provide Curative tests it receives from the state to the school district, Peacock said.

Baugh said the school district should have enough Curative tests to get through Thanksgiving. The district had 2,000 available for last week; approximately 600 of the orally self-administered tests were given to students, staff and faculty last week, leaving another 1,400 from that batch.

Another shipment of 2,000 tests — which are paid for with funds through the CARES Act — are due this week, Baugh said.

The Curative tests are shipped to the company lab in Los Angeles, which in theory provides results within 48 hours. There was a delay with Friday’s batch, with results not available until Monday night.

High school students won’t have access to the tests while they are not attending in-person class, Baugh said.

“We’re not going to be offering them to remote learning,” he said. “We had hoped to but because the state is cutting back on testing, we’re not sure we can provide it.”

The district favors the Curative tests because while the results may have a longer return time, they are more accurate than the ones the state plans to provide in December, Baugh said.

“Another problem with them is they require medical supervision to administer,” he said.

Baugh said the district wants to stay with Curative through the end of the year.

“We built our operations around the Curative testing,” he said. “We’re very comfortable with it. It’s incredibly accurate and it has a fast turn-around time. … Switching gears to a different test that requires increased medical supervision becomes hard for us.”

Another round of staff testing is scheduled Wednesday morning at the schools.

The middle and high schools spent their first quarter exclusively online because of the pandemic, both returning to in-person class Oct. 27 after the scheduled return Oct. 26 was canceled by a snowstorm and power outage.

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