Snow kidding … power outage shuts down Aspen classes
For the first time since March, in-person learning at Aspen’s middle and high schools wasn’t disrupted by the pandemic. Instead, a snowstorm and power outage conspired to stall the start of the second quarter Monday, which was to include the return of in-person learning, for another day.
Barring another 2020-esque performance like Monday’s — on-campus classes were called off because of the snowstorm, and remote learning, which was to be used as a replacement, was shut down because of a subsequent electricity outage — the long-awaited return to class begins Tuesday.
“We anticipate a normal opening tomorrow,” Superintendent David Baugh said Monday afternoon.
Getting the schools open has dominated school board meetings since the spring, resulting in an opening plan that the Aspen Education Association, which is a teachers group, had resisted until it was modified to their satisfaction late last week.
The plan includes a hybrid format at the middle and high schools where students will alternate weeks attending classes in-person and online. Those students used online learning exclusively during the first quarter. Elementary school students, who for six weeks attended in-person class two days a week and learned remotely the two other days, also are set this week to return to full-time, in-person classes.
Baugh, in his first year at Aspen School District, said he made the call Sunday night — to replace in-person class Monday with online learning because of the snowstorm — after driving the roads with transportation director Reghan Mahaffey earlier in the evening.
But not long after students were supposed to have logged onto their online classes, power and internet services were knocked out valleywide shortly before 9:30 a.m. That put an end to remote learning and Monday had become a snow day after all. Power was restored before 1 p.m.
“Because of the new schedules and the power outage, we are just now able to get email lists to send this news,” said an early afternoon email from a cohort’s teachers to their students and parents. “Get outside and go sledding.”
Baugh said more vehicles on the road also weighed in his decision to close the campus.
Along with the face-covering requirements, social-distancing measures, and a number of other health protocols, the district also has opened up another 50 parking spots to its high school juniors. In previous years, only seniors could drive to school, but the district expanded driving privileges to ease the pressure on the school buses, which are disinfected between runs and are running a staggered schedule to spread out its riders.
Monday was not technically a snow day, but it did bring rise to the question of what actually is a snow day during the pandemic.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Baugh said. “It gets a lot harder to have a true snow day with remote learning, and we’re going to make every effort to get in as much learning as possible.”
The middle and high schools have three snow days built into their calendar; the elementary school does not because it started school later this year — Sept. 8.
Baugh said the district will need to consider a snow-day policy during the pandemic.
“We know it’s important to make up for missed learning, but we also live in the mountains and a good snow day goes a long way psychologically,” Baugh said. “As an educator and a skier I’d hate to see the end of the snow day.”
The more pressing concern for school officials isn’t class being disrupted by snow but rather illness, as COVID-19 cases continue to emerge at various learning locations.
The entire Cottage preschool, which is on the ASD campus, is set to reopen this week after two of its cohorts closed because of a coronavirus case. In another development, Pitkin County Health has placed six staff members at ASD, who were exposed to an elementary teacher who tested positive for COVID-19, into quarantine.
Another case recently disrupted the Early Learning Center preschool in Aspen.
“Pitkin County was informed on Oct. 15 of an individual associated with Early Learning Center who had developed COVID-19-like symptoms,” said Pitkin County epidemiologist Josh Vance, in response to an email from The Aspen Times. “We referred this individual for testing on Oct. 16, and the lab report resulted positive on Oct. 18. We conducted the interview that night. That same night, Early Learning Center sent us a list of all of those who shared a cohort with the positive case and Pitkin County Public Health began contact tracing. Those who shared a cohort with the positive case were informed to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their last exposure.”
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