Steamboat teachers to get vaccine Friday, as some parents push for in-person learning
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For Mike Lozano and his children, learning from home has been difficult at times, especially because the internet at their north Routt County ranch isn’t always reliable.
With his wife also pursuing a master’s degree from home and four children doing schooling at home for most of the week, there isn’t enough bandwidth for his children to participate in Boy Scout meetings or other extracurricular activities online.
“They need to get back,” said Lozano, a father of four children, three in Steamboat Springs School District schools and another in a local preschool. “It is more of a mental health thing for them because everybody is pretty much going stir crazy.”
Apart from quarantine-related closings, students in Steamboat Springs’ schools have been in a hybrid model for the entire school year. The district has been hampered by a rash of quarantines since returning from winter break, but has been successful at limiting spread of COVID-19 in the schools.
There are parents on all sides of the issue, with some favoring the hybrid model for its protection despite the headaches. Others are ready to bring students back now and are amiss at why some Front Range schools in highly populated areas are open full time, but Steamboat schools are not.
On Monday, the school board will revisit a plan to start phasing students back into school full time, starting with students kindergarten through second grade. The board has twice decided to delay a return, citing high coronavirus case counts locally.
But the third iteration of the discussion will have a new layer: Vaccines for teachers.
The district and UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center will start getting shots into the arms of teachers Friday, with their second dose scheduled for March 5. Both Fridays have been shifted to asynchronous learning days without any in person classes because staff will be vaccinated at the hospital, making the logistics of having school and vaccinations the same day difficult.
At the school board meeting two weeks ago, Superintendent Brad Meeks said to allow them to bring students back full time, he was hoping to see a drop in cases in the county, less quarantines in schools and to have a vaccination plan for teachers.
“We have kind of hit two of those three, and I am hoping that we will start seeing less quarantines as well,” Meeks said.
Meeks said about 70% of the districts roughly 400 employees have signed up to get the vaccine. Lozano endorsed the idea of prioritizing vaccinating teachers as something that could help students get back to school full time.
“They are frontline workers, and in a way, they are right now saviors for our kids mental health,” Lozano said.
State guidance has set a strong emphasis on getting students in to school, but amid the highest surge of cases the Yampa Valley has ever seen, the school board felt it was best to hold off. Since the last board meeting, both weekly new cases and test positivity has declined from highs in January, though, both remain high relative to the rest of Colorado.
At the meeting Monday, a group of parents plan to address the board during public comment about starting to bring students back to school now. They plan to point to other districts across the state that has brought some if not all of their students back to in-person learning.
“I think this particular group of parents is looking at other Colorado districts and feeling in the dark about why they have been able to open, but Steamboat Springs School District hasn’t,” said Jodie Sandell, one of the parents intending to speak Monday.
Sandell said she feels this will leave Steamboat students weeks to months behind their peers across the state. She said her children want to be back full time, and she needs them to be back full time.
She specifically mentioned several parts of the state that have at least started bringing younger students back, one being Pitkin County. The Aspen School District had students of all grade levels in-person full time last week for the first time in nearly a year, but the effort to bring students back has come with more cases, including spread within schools.
Aspen started the year with kindergarten to sixth grade back full time Jan. 4, though quarantines delayed a return for some students. Since returning to school, the district, which has about 1,000 less students than Steamboat, has reported 52 positive COVID-19 cases, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. Of those, 41 were students, and 11 were staff.
While most of those cases were acquired outside of school, at least eight cases have come from transmission within the school. By contrast, the Steamboat Springs’ district has reported 20 cases in various emails to parents over that same span of time.
“I know we have had a lot of quarantines, but there does not appear to be much if any transmission going on,” Meeks said. “When we do get a positive case, we move pretty quickly to quarantine.”
Meeks said even after teachers are vaccinated, they will still have many safety protocols, and there will probably be quarantines. Still, Meeks said he is more optimistic than he has been in previous weeks about returning to full time.
“I think there is a sense of relief that we are finally going to start getting some of our staff vaccinated,” Meeks said. “It certainly opens up the possibility that we can start school or we can bring students back sooner than we were earlier thinking.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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