Routt County schools plan for indefinite closure |

Routt County schools plan for indefinite closure

Schools across the county are working to implement “distance learning” programs for the foreseeable future.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — They all knew it was a possibility, but now the superintendents at Routt County’s three school districts are preparing for a longer closure following Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order closing public schools across the state until April 17.

Now, staff in the three districts are kicking their at-home, remote learning plans into high gear — hoping to have everything in place to begin on March 30.

Steamboat Springs and South Routt school districts have already been experimenting with some online learning and take-home lessons this week. The Hayden School District is on spring break, and South Routt goes on spring break next week.

Officials with all three school districts said they know they have to also plan for the closure to go beyond April 17 — as in, to the end of the school year — though no one knows that will happen in the current environment of constant change and new restrictions coming both at the state and federal levels.

The Colorado Department of Education announced this week that end-of-year assessment tests, including the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, CMAS, will be suspended for the rest of the school year. Officials are still working to figure out what to do about PSAT and SAT exams.

Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said there is another state-level discussion on Friday, March 20, that could bring about even more changes.

“It goes without saying that what we are experiencing at this time comes with no specific directions,” the Steamboat Springs Board of Education wrote in a letter to families. “There is no perfect guide for exactly how we are to handle the myriad of situations we are all facing. The one thing we do know is that when we work together, we are stronger. We are abundantly grateful for your patience, kindness, connectedness, and we appreciate each of you.” 

Steamboat sent out surveys this week to get a sense of the needs for computer equipment and internet connectivity among the more than 2,600 students. The surveys are due tomorrow, and Meeks said thus far the district has received about 300 requests for equipment. The district also needs to problem solve with connectivity. Steamboat is using a program called Google Classroom.

Steamboat began putting out grab-and-go lunches this week — available for pick up for all students at a variety of locations. On Wednesday, students picked up 153 lunches, Meeks said, and 183 lunches Thursday.

At this time, the district will continue to pay all employees.

“They need to be available and flexible,” Meeks said.

Another unknown at this time is whether the districts will have to make up any of this closure by adding on hours or days to the school year when they are permitted to go back to their buildings.

Because of the lack of internet access and many students living in geographical isolation, the South Routt distant learning plan will look different, said Superintendent Rim Watson. They have students who have to get on a snowmobile to get to the bus stop.

This week the district provided lessons, “but not nearly as robust as it needs to be for the long term,” he said.

South Routt’s plan will include online learning but likely also some lessons physically delivered and picked up from students.

“In our mind it cannot be parent dependent,” Watson said, meaning it must function in the absence of parent facilitation.

And of course, it will look very different from youngest grades to the oldest. Watson also is working on a plan to deliver meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“We are committing to pay all certified and classified staff,” Watson said. So on March 30, “we expect them to work.”

Precisely what that looks like is still being worked out.

Parent recommendations

Closing schools is one of the most powerful ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect people at higher risk from getting very sick or dying. We encourage parents and guardians to understand the situation and do their part to protect these people, too.

Though kids are thought to be at lower risk for severe disease from COVID-19, they can easily spread it to others.

The people we are most concerned about are people 60 and older and people who have chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease, or diabetes.

This is not just about keeping kids safe; it’s about keeping the whole community safe by removing as many disease pathways as possible.

When school is closed, kids and grownups should practice social distancing. Aim to stay 6 feet away from others as much as possible.

Do not take children into any social setting when they are sick.

If your child is sick, keep them home and separate them from others. Call your health care provider if you are concerned about your child’s illness.

Children and teens with chronic health issues and immune-compromising conditions should check with their health care provider before participating in a shared childcare arrangement or gathering.

If you are over 60 or have a chronic medical condition, avoid gatherings and caring for other people’s children.

Recommendations for indoor gatherings and sharing childcare:

  • Consider the size of the space vs. the size of the group. Aim to have the fewest number of children possible in the largest space available.
  • Consider asking participating families to take their children’s temperature before gathering.
  • Frequently clean high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, toys, and keyboards. Everyday cleaning products are effective against COVID-19.
  • Practice social distancing measures. With kids, that’s hard. To increase the distance between children:

Small groups and big spaces lower the risk of disease spread.

Courtesy Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

In Hayden, much of the planning will take place next week, when students and staff returned from the break, said Hayden Superintendent Christy Sinner.

She said the district will set expectations for staff and “move forward to continue to support kids and families.”

Sinner said district officials are also working on a plan to provide meals, which will likely be in the form of a daily frozen meal pack that will feed a family of four, along with a week’s worth of snacks.

Like South Routt, Hayden also has a large number of students without internet access. The plan is to continue to employ all staff, she said, but there will a need for them to pitch in on a variety of fronts.

As if it isn’t a complex enough challenge, the districts must also ensure they are serving the needs of all students, including those on IEP plans and English language learners, and continue to provide things like therapy services.

All schools are communicating directly with families via email. Meeks requested any families who aren’t getting emails to sign into their online account and make sure all contact information is correct.

COVID-19: Follow our coverage

Before immediately heading to the hospital, people who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 have several resources, including:

  • The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911 or email for answers in English and Spanish, Mandarin and more.
  • UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center offers Ask-A-Nurse, a 24/7 call line staffed by registered nurses who can assess symptoms and provide advice on seeking care. In Routt County, Ask-A-Nurse can be reached by calling 970-871-7878.
  • Virtual Visits can be done from the comfort of your home and only require a computer or tablet with a working webcam, speakers and microphone, or a smartphone.
  • If patients are experiencing severe symptoms or having difficulty breathing, they should visit the hospital’s emergency department.

Take precautions in everyday life:

  • Frequently and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home if you’re sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Clean surfaces in your home and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
  • Be calm but be prepared.
  • Employees at businesses and customers ​are required to wear a mask, according to a statewide public health order.
  • Limit distance between non-household members to 6 feet when indoors and outdoors.
  • The maximum group size for indoor activities is 10.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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