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Steamboat Springs schools continue without much guidance from state

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs School District has almost made it through half a school year in a pandemic, a feat that has added to teachers’ workloads but has largely been successful at slowing the spread of the virus in schools.

COVID-19 has caused nearly 600 students and almost 70 staff in the district to quarantine since the middle of September, with 17 positive cases at the Steamboat Springs High School, which forced a shift to online learning.

Still, mass quarantines have largely worked, with there being just one case of a student testing positive for the virus after they entered quarantine, said Superintendent Brad Meeks at Monday’s school board meeting.



New level red restrictions imposed on Routt County largely do not impact how the school is operating, with state guidelines for the level leaving much of the choice to districts to decide what is best for them in their situation.

Even a move to level purple does not change much for the district because it is still largely their choice, even though nearly everything else would be shut down.



“In purple, it has pretty much anything is appropriate, so that gives us absolutely no guidance as per always from the state,” said School Board President Kelly Latterman. “You have to laugh, but it is not particularly funny.”

Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s chief medical officer, said there are three risk areas to look at when considering schools being open — the risk to students, the risk to staff and the risk that the school being open poses to the community.

Harrington said there have been fewer COVID-19 cases among younger students. While clearly they carry it and can get the virus, the risk for them is measurably less than it is for others. For staff, he said individual risk should be considered depending on the staff member and their needs.

As for risk to the community, Harrington said he does not believe schools pose that much of the threat. There have been just six cases among staff where they got the virus while at school among the county’s three districts, Harrington said.

The high school will restart with a hybrid model after Thanksgiving break and then, early in the new year, the district plans to reassess teaching models in all its schools, hoping to move younger students back into the classroom full time.

The added work of hybrid learning and the randomness of quarantines have been hard for district staff at all levels. Finding substitute teachers when a teacher has to quarantine has become increasingly hard. And when the high school shifted to online learning, it was in part because the school lacked the staff to stay open.

“In the hybrid situation, there is a lot of challenges with it and a lot of additional work for our staff to make that happen,” Meeks said.

Meeks said district leaders have been looking for ways to give staff help to handle the extra workloads by having less schoolwide meetings and adding more time for staff to address backlogged work. The district added two professional development days on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving break to allow teachers some time to “catch up.”

COVID-19


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Where to get a COVID-19 test:

3 to 5 p.m. Mondays; noon to 2 p.m. Tuesdays; 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays; noon to 2 p.m. Thursdays at the Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs. Friday or Saturday will become available as needed, and Wednesdays will be added in other parts of the county.

Make an appointment using the online calendar or call 970-870-5577.

Other testing locations:

• UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, 970-875-2686

• Northwest Colorado Health, 970-879-1632

• Steamboat Medical Group, 970-879-0203

• Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs, 970-871-1900

• Sleeping Bear Pediatrics, 970-879-2327

• Steamboat Emergency Center, 970-846-6230

• Steamboat Springs Family Medicine, 970-871-1323

• Yampa Valley Medical Associates, 970-879-3327

• South Routt Medical Center, 970-736-8118

Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning for the district, said this stretch of the school year is always a grind for teachers due to a lack of planned development days.

“I know the teacher workload, as Brad said, it’s been immense, and we recognized that going into this,” Hamric said. “This new form of instruction and assessment, it is extremely challenging.”

Despite what COVID has thrown them, Hamric said they have not seen a massive slide when it comes to students’ academic performance.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is considering changing protocols about who would be required to quarantine after a case is found in the classroom — a move that could potentially alleviate staffing headaches.

“I do think looking at what some of the proposed changes are will be helpful for our school staff,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said.

If a teacher was wearing both a KN95 mask and eye protection in the classroom, they would not need to quarantine if there was simply a student in the class who tested positive for the virus.

The district has a supply of KN95 masks they received from the state earlier in the year to provide to teachers. Smith said they could also inquire about getting more masks from the state health agency.

Harrington pointed out that if teachers were to wear both face shields and KN95 masks, they would be surpassing the personal protective equipment used in most health care settings.

“If you move to some level where you are using N95 masks and/or face shields, you’re surpassing even what we are doing in many of the medical centers, which I think is great,” Harrington said.

As for students, Smith said it would not make sense for them to wear KN95 masks all the time. For younger students, the masks, which are sized for adults, likely would not even fit. For older students, Smith said it would not hurt if they had access to them, but the current stockpile is meant for teachers and other staff.

Katy Lee, vice president of the school board, said she is worried about a rise in cases in schools after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Lee suggested the district ask students who travel at Thanksgiving against CDC recommendations or take part in activities the CDC considers medium or high risk to stay home for two weeks after the break to avoid any spread in the school.

“Any behaviors that carry on through this week will be reflected in our buildings, and it will have an impact on our staff and our students,” said school board member Chresta Brinkman. “I feel like we have a really good system for what goes on inside of the buildings, but if we can’t control what goes on outside within the community, that has a direct impact on what happens in the buildings.”


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