Aspen middle, high schools mark Oct. 26 to start in-person class

Aspen middle and high school students now are set to start in-person classes Oct. 26, which marks the beginning of the second quarter.

Reopening the schools the last week of October dovetails with the two schools’ quarterly system and will smoothen the transition from remote learning to in-person classes, Superintendent David Baugh said Wednesday.

The opening date is three weeks later than what was established in a plan unveiled to Aspen School District’s board of education at its Sept. 21 meeting. The middle school had Oct. 5 marked to reopen, and the high school Oct. 19.

“What we were going to do is completely reshuffle the deck the last three weeks of the quarter and start over in the second quarter,” Baugh said. “What makes sense educationally was to keep things intact and make the changes at the end of the quarter.”

Middle and high school students will attend classes using a hybrid model; in other words, pupils with surnames starting with A through K will go class for a week starting Oct. 26.

The other cohorts — M through Z — would take class remotely that week and start in-person class the week of Nov. 2. Cohorts at both schools would alternate weeks under the hybrid system.

“We may have to make some micro-adjustments if our classes are uneven,” AMS Principal Elizabeth Meador said during a virtual discussion with the middle school community Wednesday.

Elementary school students, who began attending class through a hybrid system Sept. 8, also will see changes Oct. 26.

The biggest change will be moving all elementary school classes to the elementary building; students have been spread out over the campus’ three buildings since school began. They also will continue attending class through a hybrid model where cohorts attend class in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, while Wednesdays are set aside for teacher planning.

Baugh said the extra time to open the upper schools also allows for the upgrade of the elementary school’s HVAC system to improve the air quality.

At the middle school virtual conference, its principal and assistant principal, as well as its psychologist, nurse and the district’s information technology and transportation directors filled in the community on the nuances of getting in-person class started during the health crisis.

That starts with getting students on the buses and to school. Classes will start at 9 a.m. at the middle and high schools, allowing about an hour’s time to clean and disinfect the buses after having toted the elementary kids to the campus.

Middle school teachers of world language and exploration classes will teach virtually instead of directly in class, because “they are in high contact with students across the day. They see hundreds of kids,” said Assistant Principal Jayson Thomas.

If the middle and high schools stay true to their newly scheduled opening date, students will have returned to on-campus learning for the first time since schools closed in March because of the health pandemic.

COVID-19 trends will dictate the schools’ hybrid opening and eventually whether it will expand to full access.

If the county’s Coronameter stays in either the blue or yellow zones — comfortable and cautious, respectively — the schools will be able to open Oct. 26.

Pitkin County was in the yellow zone Wednesday.

“We’re still in yellow and we’re hopeful that it’s going to start dropping off but the trend for the last four weeks is slowing bumping up, so that’s really a problem for us,” Baugh said.

Elementary school health protocols have included parents completing a symptom tracker each morning before their child goes to school. The same approach will take place at the middle and high schools.

“We do want you at this time to fill out the symptom checker each morning before school so that we can see how you all feeling, and it’s a reminder to not come to school if you’re not feeling well or have any of those symptoms,” said middle school nurse Elise Dreher.

Students at all three schools also have the option to continue remote learning during the pandemic.

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