Roaring Fork Schools push high school reopening date to Nov. 4, opt against 50/50 hybrid approach
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
High school students in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt will have to wait until Nov. 4 for their optional return to in-person classes, but once back they can expect to be on campus full time — with all the standard coronavirus precautions in place.
The Roaring Fork School District announced Wednesday that it is changing its return date for high schools from Nov. 2 to Nov. 4, in order to allow two full days at the start of that week for teachers and school staff to make final preparations.
Also, instead of using a “hybrid” model as previously contemplated — with about half the students in buildings on alternating days and the other half taking classes online — the district will employ a traditional model, district officials said in a letter sent to parents Wednesday afternoon.
Students and families who opt to remain on the distance learning plan that’s been in place since the start of the school year can still do so.
High school parents are asked to complete a survey to indicate whether their student will resume in-person learning on Nov. 4, or if they will remain in distance learning.
“Schools will do their best to include students who choose distance learning by providing classroom cameras, rearranging student schedules and perhaps creating some sections for distance learners,” the parent letter states. “We are currently exploring creating a separate online school program as a district program for the second semester.”
Meanwhile, the decision to go with a traditional model instead of the hybrid was made “in the best interests of students and staff members, including everyone’s health and safety,” the letter explains.
“There is a preponderance of evidence that reducing the number of students in school buildings does not significantly change the risk of contracting Covid,” according to the letter.
“Research on the many high schools that have resumed in-person learning under both models shows that there is no difference in the number of students or adults contracting the disease under one model or the other. Therefore, we are focusing our efforts on the protective measures that are proven to work, rather than on outdated speculation about the hybrid model.”
Many of those measures are now in place at district elementary schools where students in pre-kindergarten through third grade returned to classrooms this week, and in middle schools where students are slated to return beginning next week along with the upper elementary grades.
They include mandatory wearing of masks, maintaining physical distancing between students and staff with established foot traffic patterns inside the building and for entering and leaving, and encouraging regular hand-washing and other hygiene protocols.
The hybrid model would have presented challenges by cutting in half the time teachers have with students, and requiring students to spend more time learning asynchronously aside from real-time class sessions.
That approach was “found to be unsatisfying last spring,” the letter says, referring to the stopgap online approach that was used when schools across the state shut down in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Alternating days disrupts the flow of teaching and learning, reduces our ability to monitor and work with struggling students, creates more social isolation, and increases psychological distress,” the letter also says.
It also would mean transitioning once again to a new way of doing things as high schools would still eventually return to full-time in-person learning, the letter explains of the decision.
To prepare for the return to classrooms, high school students will not have live online sessions on Nov. 2 and 3, and instead will be given coursework to do on their own those days. Read the full parent letter in both English and Spanish here.
HVAC systems good to go
Meanwhile, issues with the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system at Glenwood Springs High School are expected to be rectified by the Nov. 4 return date, if not before, Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for the district, said Wednesday.
“Right now, we are on track to have the HVAC issues resolved in that building,” Gatlin said of efforts to install ionization units and other air filter upgrades in HVAC systems at all the district schools.
“The main issue was just some concerns about the airflow in that building in particular, and whether those systems are working properly,” he said. “Testing has been done on the airflow rates, and we didn’t see any major issues with how that system was performing.”
District administrators said during a school board meeting last week that any lingering HVAC concerns could further delay the return to high school buildings.
The district is also leaning heavily on the advice of public health and medical professionals locally regarding the risk level for disease spread, which also could prompt further delays in the return plans.