Steamboat schools delay plans for additional reopening
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School District is hitting the pause button on any plans to further reopen schools.
With the largest spike in COVID-19 cases thus far in the pandemic in recent weeks, Superintendent Brad Meeks said during Monday night’s school board meeting that the recommendation of Routt County Public Health officials is aligned with the district’s decision to temporarily halt plans to bring kids back five days a week, at least for the next few weeks in order to see what happens with local case numbers.
At the Oct. 12 school board meeting, there was a discussion about trying to get kindergarten through second grade open five days a week for in-person learning — and doing it relatively soon. And shortly after that, potentially expand to third, fourth and fifth grades.
At that meeting, the board directed administrators to solicit more feedback from parents and school staff.
In 105 survey responses from both certified and classified staff at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools, 65% were in favor of more reopening and 36% were against it.
Out of 558 survey responses from parents from both elementary schools, 80.1% were in favor of five-day-a-week in-person learning and 19.9% were not in favor.
Based on the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, concerns expressed by parents and teachers and the upcoming holidays that bring increased travel, Meeks said the district’s proposal has now changed.
Meeks pointed to the three benchmarks the county uses to move from the various state-dictated levels for communities: having less than 19 cases in a two-week period, maintaining a positivity rate under 5% and having a stable or declining hospitalization rate.
Currently, Meeks said the recommendation is for all students to return to the hybrid model after winter break.
The hope is then to have kindergarten through second-grade students return to in-person learning five days a week Jan. 19.
If things go well and numbers hold steady, Meeks said, they would then look at expanding that to third through fifth graders Feb. 1.
Board member Katy Lee said the surveys were very helpful, indicating the majority of staff and parents were supportive of further reopening, but only when public health officials give the go-ahead.
Given the uptick in cases, “We don’t want to change one of our controls right now with the numbers moving as fast as they are,” Lee said.
Board President Kelly Latterman said further reopening will rely on meeting the metrics and having the support of public health officials.
“I think it would be irresponsible right now to go to five days a week,” she said.
Based on the academic and social-emotional needs of the youngest students, board member Kim Brack said she was really hoping the numbers wouldn’t go up, but that seeing as they did, she supported the proposal to wait.
Brack and fellow board member Lara Craig noted the role of the community — especially with kids returning from college and increased travel — to do their part.
“I hope people take quarantining and social distancing seriously,” Craig said.
“It’s on the community to help us out and get kids back in school,” Brack added.
Following a positive COVID-19 case of a high school student that led to the quarantining of 57 students and seven staff members, Meeks said one of the biggest challenges, and “fragility of the system,” is the need for substitute teachers.
The district has been actively recruiting more subs, according to Human Resources Director Katie Jacobs. As of Oct. 12, the district has added eight new subs, with 11 other applications still being processed.
Board member Chresta Brinkman said pushing back the date to get students back to five-day-a-week attendance would allow more time to recruit additional substitute teachers, as well as time to figure out some of the logistics of social distancing with more students in the building — one of the primary concerns for staff members.
In an update on the online Edgenuity program being used by the fully at-home learners, Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric said there was a steep learning curve in the beginning, but that now, parents and students had better figured out the system and expressed greater satisfaction than early on.
The biggest need identified, Hamric said, was more engagement with the online teachers and increased individualized support.
Hamric said the plan is to keep Edgenuity for the second semester but make adjustments and improvements to the online system. There had been some discussion about shopping for a less expensive option, but Hamric noted that would again require another big learning curve.
Some students love it, he said, and some are not doing well.
With some Edgenuity students returning to in-person learning and some in-person learners potentially going to online, Hamric said the district would like families to have those decisions made right before Thanksgiving break, so that cohorts can be adjusted based on the new numbers.
Meeks said administrators are communicating with their staff to also solicit feedback on what worked with the hybrid model and where there is a need for change and improvement.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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