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Aspen school year starting to crystallize

Aspen High School
Aspen Times file photo

Aspen Elementary School is preparing for its students to return to in-person classes next month so long as the local count of positive coronavirus cases remains low heading into the fall school year.

On Monday, principals at Aspen’s elementary, middle and high schools introduced to the public and the board of education their latest plans to reopen the schools.

Models include a hybrid-style learning format for elementary students who will attend class in cohorts beginning Sept. 8, while the middle and high school students are scheduled to have a soft start to school Aug. 26 with remote classes beginning Aug. 31.

The presentations were made during the school board’s meeting Monday, where all five elected members attended in person while the majority of the audience tuned in through a Zoom video conference.

Board members did not vote on the plan but instead took feedback from principals, administrators, teachers and parents about how the fall semester will look during the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is the first step and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely,” said Superintendent David Baugh, “and we will continue to work closely with Pitkin County Heath.”

Last week, the county’s health department gave the district guidelines on how to manage the school during the pandemic, whether that means opening up more in-person classes or retreating to stricter conditions that could include a complete shutdown.

As of Monday, Pitkin County had not registered any positive coronavirus cases in the past 10 days, said epidemiologist Joshua Vance.

For now, the schedule has elementary students, from kindergarten to fourth grade, returning to in-person learning Sept. 8. AES Principal Chris Basten noted that planning for 530 students and 70 staff members in one building isn’t feasible or safe, so classes will be spread among the three schools since the middle and high students won’t be attending in-person class yet.

Through what is called a hybrid learning model, elementary students would attend school with up to nine other cohort classmates, either on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, with little movement in their buildings. Pandemic protocols also would be in place, including face-covering requirements for student and staff.

Wednesdays would be used for remote planning for both teachers, students and their families.

AES also would operate on a reduced learning plan, focusing on the nuts-and-bolts courses such as math, science and language arts.

That’s a point of contention for a number of parents and teachers who argued arts, sports and other activities provide children healthy departures from traditional academic rigors.

“I can’t imagine that,” said high school visual arts teacher Stephanie Nixon. “I just feel like we’ll be any other mediocre school and that’s not who I work for.”

A parents group representative said they were unsatisfied with the plan for the elementary school because of the responsibility it places on households with remote learning, which did not produce ringing endorsements after its sudden launch in the spring because of the pandemic.

“Perhaps the biggest concern we’re hearing from parents is the plan’s impact on families,” said parent Catherine Lutz, speaking for the group. “The onus put on parents of elementary school students, as well as some middle and high school students, cannot be ignored. Those of us with younger children will need to become teachers, or at least skilled chaperones, three days per week. Many parents simply cannot do it, and will turn to learning pods, other caregivers, or bringing kids to work — increasing exposure and risk on the days students are not in school. Add to this complicating factors such as work obligations, lost income, and split-parenting households, and the potential financial and psychological toll on working families could be huge.”

A more detailed scheduled is scheduled to be unveiled at the board’s next meeting Aug. 31.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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