Local pediatricians urge Aspen, Roaring Fork schools to reopen ASAP
To the Roaring Fork Community,
We, the pediatricians of the Roaring Fork Valley, commend the tireless efforts of our community public health departments and school systems as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We all understand the importance of schools for education. Perhaps none of us fully grasped the additional vital role schools play in the overall health and wellbeing of children until they closed last spring.
Although originally necessary to protect the health and safety of our community, it is clear that shutting schools has had negative impacts on students and their families. Depression, suicide attempts, child abuse and domestic violence have increased dramatically nationwide. Despite the best efforts of our teachers, online learning cannot adequately provide individualized attention, equal learning opportunities, nutrition, or the social and emotional benefits of attending school in person.
We cannot eliminate all the risks of contracting COVID-19. There are many factors in our area that cause its continued spread. Where primary and secondary schools have opened in the US, contracting COVID-19 has been shown to be more likely out in the community than in the schools. Given these realities, our community needs to prioritize which businesses, services, and gatherings we value most. We believe schools deserve to be at the top of the list. Unless and until our community leaders impose stricter restrictions on non-essential businesses and gatherings, we advocate for schools to open now.
As fellow front-line workers, we empathize with the concerns of teachers and staff about their own health and safety. We know we can mitigate the risks for all by combining several strategies recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Colorado. Our school systems have already developed extensive plans and have been successful locally at implementing these safety measures that significantly reduce potential disease risk: 1) Frequent hand washing; 2) Social distancing; 3) Facial coverings; 4) Recommending routine vaccinations, including for Influenza; 5) Screening for symptoms of COVID-19 at the door; and 6) Cohorting children and staff into smaller groups to limit the impact of quarantine and limit disease spread.
We understand that returning to in-person learning may not be the right decision for every family, and we whole-heartedly support families who choose to continue with online learning. We are ready and willing to discuss these options with families. But families need to have a choice.
As a pediatric community, we are available to schools for phone consultation, and we will provide timely in- person evaluations and COVID-19 testing when appropriate. We fully expect there to be cases which will require cohorts of students and staff to quarantine and switch to online learning. We will partner with schools and public health, and we will continuously monitor the situation and adjust our recommendations as needed.
We the pediatricians of the Roaring Fork Valley, strongly recommend that students return to full time, in-person learning without delay. Schools are essential for the mental, physical, and social wellbeing 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. We cannot allow the children of the Roaring Fork Valley to continue to carry the burden of this disease alone, isolated at home, falling further behind while the rest of the community continues to progress towards normalcy. Our children must be our number one priority.
Bradley Holmes, MD, FAAP, FACP
Ellen Brooks, MD, FAAP
Dan Galka, MD, FAAP
S. Nichole Feeney, MD, FAAP
Anna Lorenson, MD, FAAP
Maria Roques, MD
Carey Levin, MD, FAAP
Mary Harris, MD, FAAP
Claudia Nelson, MD, FAAP
Teri Stevenson, MD FAAP
David Brooks, MD, FAAP, CPE
Charlene Guggenheim, MD, FAAP
Heather Gardner, MD, FAAP
Colby Quintenz, MD, FAAP
Kelsea Loveless-Hoffmann, MD
Alana Shah, MD
Rebecca Percy, MD, FAAP
Michael Goralka, MD, FAAP, FACP
Stephen Martin, MD
William Mitchell, MD, FAAP
A group of doctors in the Roaring Fork Valley has made a call for the immediate opening of public schools to stop what they say is the social, mental and academic decay from remote learning that began in March.
A open letter sent Thursday to local media outlets was signed by 20 pediatricians who said the health risk associated with reopening the schools isn’t as great as the damage being done to students because of their physical detachment from class.
The letter “strongly recommend(s) that students return to full time, in-person learning without delay. Schools 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.
“We cannot allow the children of the Roaring Fork Valley to continue to carry the burden of this disease alone, isolated at home, falling further behind while the rest of the community continues to progress towards normalcy. Our children must be our number one priority.”
The letter’s contents do not specifically identify but pertain to the Aspen School District and Roaring Fork Schools, which encompasses 14 schools from Basalt to Glenwood Springs. It was sent to the health departments in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, as well as the superintendents of both districts, according to Dr. Bradley Holmes, an internal medicine and pediatric physician at Aspen Valley Hospital. Holmes, who sent out the letter on the group’s behalf, said it stands on its own as a unified voice for local children’s doctors and declined comment.
Aspen’s middle and public schools are scheduled to open Oct. 26 using a hybrid system. Its elementary school has operated on a cohort system since Sept. 8, and the K-8 Aspen Community School in Woody Creek is open.
The letter from the pediatricians, said Superintendent David Baugh, “affirms our decision to return to campus on Oct. 26. I wish we could get there sooner.”
Teachers have asked for a slow roll into fully reopening classes because of the health risks and a lack of overall confidence that they and their students would be in a safe learning environment.
The reopening plan for Aspen schools, said Baugh, shows “we are headed in the right direction.”
Aspen school board member Susan Zimet also is a generational practitioner.
“As a school board member,” she said, “I wish we could get our kids in-person more quickly because we know that in particularly young kids that learning is much more effective and socialization is more crucial at the younger age.”
Yet not all of Aspen’s school buildings have been up to the challenge because of air quality issues that are being remedied, she said. The elementary school’s HVAC system is getting overhauled to improve the air quality. Its students also have attended classes at elementary, middle and high schools since reopening.
Zimet said, “On the other hand, as a physician, I really don’t want us to have to open and then close and risk the transmission of COVID, whether it’s a student, whether it’s a teacher, whether it’s a parent.”
The Aspen School District could collect an extra $1.2-1.5 million in tax dollars annually as a result of the district switching to local funding in fiscal year 2023-2024.