Britta Gustafson: While being ‘right’ feels good, I hope I’m wrong about this one. |

Britta Gustafson: While being ‘right’ feels good, I hope I’m wrong about this one.

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

And so it begins. Even as Mother Nature tried to come down with a blanket of snow and force the schools to reconsider this reckless leap of faith — and despite a dramatic rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County, a teacher quarantine that has affected at least six Aspen Elementary School classes, and the Cottage preschool (housed in the same building as AES) closing twice this fall due to coronavirus outbreaks — the school leadership has still forged ahead with the full reopening of Aspen Elementary School.

As a parent who has skin in the game, with kids in both elementary and middle school, aging parents living closeby and a sister with autoimmune concerns who I also live near and work with, I am not sure that I agree with this decision to throw caution to the wind (or fancy air filtration systems) and send my elementary schooler back into a full building with upward of 900 people on any given day, five days a week.

Prior to this full opening, the school district had utilized a hybrid system with some in-person class, some virtual learning and a much lower occupancy rate in the school buildings. To my shock and pleasant amazement, the somewhat chaotic hybrid model seemed to be working. Yes, it amplified my less than ideal nocturnal work schedule, calling on us all to step up as community members. For me that meant work from home while part-time mom-schooling, often leaving my work to the post-bedtime hours. Of course I can empathize with the challenges of a work schedule that does not allow for this luxury (not sure that’s the right word).

But still we have to do what is right for the bigger picture. This is about so much more than managing expectations, getting back to “normal,” or in my case recuperative sleep.

We need to box in a pandemic, and since leadership from above suggests we are all expendable it’s up to our own radical community level and personal choices to help contain the spread. Argue at will about how insignificant dying is when compared with your bank account.

But without health what do you actually have? Money can not go with you and in very few cases will millions even save your life if an unfamiliar, untreatable disease takes over your body (unless injecting cash works)? If you have ever donated to save a life, just one, please think about how flexibility and responsibility go hand-in-hand now that we are asked to reevaluate our true priorities.

According to Pitkin County, “the 14-day rolling average has been increasing since Sept. 14 with cases up 60% from the previous period. Community spread (the percent of people who tested positive that don’t know where they were infected) has increased from 10% to 31%.

“As of Oct. 14, the Public Health Team is investigating five separate outbreaks — the most ever in the pandemic thus far.”

We were told in August during the first Aspen School District Town Hall meeting regarding the school’s reopening that the school would reevaluate reopening if cases were on the rise; and now they are surging in Colorado. So I guess that went out the window, but the virus won’t. If kids spend 25 minutes eating without masks on, all the open windows in the school won’t stop indoor aerosol spread.

Then there is the parent pain of ostracizing our individual children. Yes, it’s the right thing to do to minimize our interactions with people. But I can stay home for six months and then still be asked to have my kids exposed to their 20 classmates and their 20 families and their choices. The alternative of keeping kids home can lead to feelings of rejection, and the school definitely discourages it, making the option feel outcasting. During this fragile time in their social lives, how can I tell them it’s not worth the gamble? And should we really be the ones individually responsible when those in power are tying our hands behind our backs and telling us they are going to do this, widespread-community-disease-festering environment and caution be damned?

My heart aches for the teachers who are not on board with the plan to fully reopening and who are subjected to hostility, as if they just want to take an endless vacation and give up on a career that clearly only offers the rewards of doing the work. No one goes into public elementary school teaching to get rich, have an easy job, because it looks good on a resume as a stepping stone or lands you a Sugar Daddy; it’s a labor of love, and they teach to a future for the betterment of our society. Many teachers live in Aspen and also grew up here, this is their home. They didn’t move here to teach because the living wage and teacher’s salaries are so symbiotically in balance. Many teachers work second jobs and commute, so slamming them for their personal fears or because they can see behind the facade of faulty health-safety regulations seems highly unjust.

If you have ever spent time in a kindergarten classroom you have unwillingly been in contact with saliva, fecal matter, mucus and blood, all by 10 a.m. So regardless of how many kids go to the bathroom at a time, there is really nothing but faith to prove that this ‘full opening’ is a good idea at this time.

But I hope I’m wrong. I really, really hope I’m wrong.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at