Aspen schools shuttered through April 17 because of COVID-19, push focus online |

Aspen schools shuttered through April 17 because of COVID-19, push focus online

There is a lot of uncertainty around school returning to a physical classroom anytime soon, but this doesn’t mean students of the Aspen School District will be without homework or learning opportunities when they return from spring break.

In an effort to keep education moving forward despite school closings surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Aspen schools are planning to focus on online learning starting in April with hopes of completing the school year more or less on time.

“It’s just going to take some work to get everybody on this whole new way to deliver instruction,” ASD Board of Education President Susan Marolt said Wednesday. “The teachers have to get up to speed on how they are going to deliver the content.”

School district officials from Aspen to Parachute sent out a joint news release Wednesday saying schools will be closed until April 17 because of the spread of the coronavirus. This includes Garfield County School District 16, Garfield School District No. Re-2, Roaring Fork School District Re-1, the Aspen School District and Aspen Community School. Also closed until then are Carbondale Community School, Marble Charter School, Ross Montessori, Two Rivers Community School and Yampah Mountain High School.

The news release said, “All public schools are anticipated to resume on April 20 contingent that social isolation orders are lifted.” Additionally, all end-of-year testing through the Colorado Department of Education will be stopped. This could extend to college tests such as the SAT in the coming weeks.

The closure came Wednesday after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order suspending in-person learning in public and private schools across the state from March 23 to April 17. The order directs schools to “make every effort to provide alternative learning opportunities during this time.”

Tuesday, the Colorado High School Activities Association postponed the start of spring sports until at least April 18 because of the virus.

“We just don’t know at this point, because that’s sort of the way it’s been going,” Marolt said of returning to the classroom. “We coordinated with the other districts throughout the valley and I think that with conversations with them and with the state, it’s just trying to make sure we are all getting the information at the same time and making our decisions collectively.”

While the schools will remain closed, Aspen High School Principal Tharyn Mulberry said the district plans to have some sort of online learning system in place for the students by April 6. The Aspen schools already had been scheduled to be out for spring break the week of March 23, with the following week providing teachers and other administrators the chance to get online learning up and running.

“There are a few moving parts that we have to figure out because we have some things the other schools don’t face,” Mulberry said Wednesday night. “It will be pretty cool because we will have a lot of different ways they can approach the learning. It will be fairly easy, because at the high school most of the teachers have a digital classroom already. This will be adapting that to an online learning format.”

Marolt said the district is working on ways to make sure each student has internet access and that physical paper packets could still be used to supplement the online learning. It’s all a work-in-progress as details surrounding the coronavirus change on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

“It’s a challenge just to get started with online school,” Marolt said. “There are just a lot of details. It’s constantly changing.”

As of Wednesday, Marolt said the May 30 graduation ceremony was still scheduled to go on as planned. 

In response to a new law put in place by Polis, Marolt also said the Board of Education would meet Thursday to pass its own policy that will allow them to meet electronically going forward. She said they would find a way to make sure the public can stay involved.

The BOE expects to make an announcement on the new ASD superintendent, possibly “within days,” Marolt said. The required two-week waiting period after announcing the finalists has ended, meaning they can move forward with an offer. Mulberry was one of the four finalists, along with three other out-of-district applicants.

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