Superintendent’s Corner: Let’s do our parts to keep schools open

Rob Stein
Rob Stein

As we approach Thanksgiving, we are thankful to have had time in person with students over the past month and thankful to all the students, teachers, staff and parents who worked together to pull off a successful return to school. At this time, we are planning to resume in-person learning after the holiday, but our ability to do so will depend on the efforts of the whole community.

Since resuming in-person learning, cases have presented in most of our schools, requiring us to quarantine groups of students and staff members. In a few instances, when we haven’t had enough staff in school to operate our programs safely or effectively, a whole grade or school has had to revert to distance learning. These sudden transitions are extremely disruptive for families, and students learning from quarantine are definitely not enjoying as rich a learning experience as their classmates in school. Teachers managing increased supervision duties and planning for two kinds of lessons every day — for those students in class and those at home — are working at an unsustainable pace. Staff shortages, the lack of available guest teachers, and frequent quarantines will continue to disrupt our schools as long as the pandemic lasts.

Meanwhile, there is rising concern alongside the rising COVID rates in our communities. The current number of cases in Garfield County, for example, is about 10 times higher than it was on Oct. 2 when we made the decision to resume in-person learning. Our public health departments report that social gatherings are the main cause of the increase in cases. After Thanksgiving, as after every other holiday, we can anticipate a spike due to even more social interactions. In other words, unless we radically change our behavior, we can expect a spike on top of the current spike.

Although health experts say that school is one of the safest places for students during a pandemic, the only way we will be able to maintain in-person learning is if our whole community can take responsibility for reducing social gatherings and taking all of the precautions that limit the spread of the disease. If we continue to see high COVID rates, either the number of quarantines will incapacitate our programs, or state health officials will order shutdowns. Therefore, I personally implore you to do your part over Thanksgiving to commit the sacrifices we will need to make to keep our kids in school:

As the governor has requested, keep your Thanksgiving gatherings small and limit them to immediate household members.

At all times, abide by the practices that are keeping us safe in schools: wearing masks, distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and contacting your medical provider when you have symptoms.

It is going to be difficult for schools to maintain programming, which is why we are seeing so many school districts around the state pivot back to distance learning. It is tempting to follow suit, but for now we are planning to resume in-person learning after Thanksgiving. We all know that, for students, being with their teachers is better for their learning as well as the innumerable other benefits they derive from being in school. Recent CDPHE guidance is urging us to maintain in-person learning, especially for grades K-5 and for other strategically targeted student populations. Rather than closing schools pre-emptively, we will continue to monitor and respond.

Everybody needs to be prepared for cohorts, grades or whole schools to shift to distance learning with very little notice. Regardless what happens in the Roaring Fork Schools, I want again to thank everyone for doing your part to reopen our schools successfully; for enduring the additional challenges that returning to in-person learning has entailed, especially for staff members; and for your ongoing commitment to the health and safety practices that keep our schools open and our community healthy.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.