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Aspen teachers, district on same page ahead of Monday reopening

Aspen High School
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A teachers group at the Aspen School District said they are satisfied with plans detailing the reopening of live classroom instruction.

In an announcement issued Friday afternoon, Aspen Education Association, the advocate arm for the public school teachers, said its members “are so glad that the Aspen School District has listened to the voices of our membership in our quest to safely return to in-person instruction.”

The announcement comes after the AEA notified the school board’s five members and ASD Superintendent David Baugh, via an email sent minutes before Monday’s board meeting, with a petition listing demands they wanted met before students and faculty return to school this Monday.

Monday also is the start of the second quarter, after students in the middle and high schools spent the first quarter learning remotely. The elementary school has been operating on a two-day cohort system with Wednesdays used for teacher planning. It will fully open Monday, with its students having the option to learn from home.

“As I’ve stated in the past, the system remains a fragile one, and we are hopeful that we can offer uninterrupted in-person learning, as long as the prevailing health conditions dictate,” said Aspen Elementary School Principal Chris Basten in an email to families on Friday.

Baugh could not be reached for comment Friday, which concluded fall break for the ASD as it gears up for a weekly cohort-system that rolls out for the middle and high schools Monday.

“We are excited by the announcement from Dr. Baugh on Thursday evening that the district has agreed to the demands listed in our petition,” the AEA said.

Board of Education President Susan Marolt said in an email Friday night, “We spent quite a few hours talking with AEA leadership yesterday and on Wednesday and are continuing to work on safety preparations and protocols to address their concerns. We are still planning for reopening Monday with the elementary school full in person and middle and high schools in hybrid mode. We will continue to regularly meet with AEA to make sure we are continuing to work together for a successful, safe and effective reopening.”

Reaching an agreement ahead of Monday’s return has been the culmination of multiple meetings and discussions, public and otherwise, where many teachers have said they want to return to in-person class but felt unsafe and uncomfortable under the plans they’d been presented. The teachers’ pleas emphasized their passion for the profession and their students, but they also suggested the community lacked empathy and appreciation for their efforts under unforeseen circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As well, some teachers said they hadn’t the proper say in the district’s plans to reopen, and others said they felt they were being made pawns in the push to start in-person class.

On the other side, medical professionals issued a public letter Oct. 1 calling for the immediate opening of public schools in the Roaring Fork Valley, noting that they “are essential for the mental, physical and social well-being of children. Given our improved understanding of COVID-19, its minimal impact on children, and low transmission rates within schools, we stand together in support of the initiatives, actions and funding needed to open our schools.”

That letter was signed by 20 pediatricians.

Aspen teachers, however, have said the schools aren’t capable of having adequate social-distancing practices in place because of their classroom sizes. Additionally, Pitkin County has been seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, and on Friday Gov. Jared Polis issued an order limiting private gatherings to 10 people. The order does not affect the schools.

In the announcement, the AEA said the ASD administration agreed to the following terms in its approach toward educating students during the pandemic:

1) Science-based guidelines, developed jointly with the Pitkin County Public Health, to help solidify the decision on when the school district should conduct in person, hybrid, and digital instruction.

2) A commitment to requiring social distancing for the health and safety of staff and students.

3) Clear cleaning protocols.

4) Weekly meeting with AEA leadership to evaluate the model and make adjustments as necessary.

The school district’s reopening plan, as Baugh previously has said, is informed by guidelines from local, state and federal health and educational resources including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Pitkin County Health.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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