Younger students in Steamboat Schools could return to full-time, in-person learning by end of February
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Some Steamboat Springs School District students will likely return to class — in person and full time — by the end of the month after the Steamboat Springs School Board expressed its desire Monday to get younger students back into that learning model as fast as safely possible.
Students in kindergarten through second grade could be back as soon as Feb. 22, which is the Monday after students return from a weeklong break, but it could also be later that week or the next. Superintendent Brad Meeks said he would consult with principals about how they can bring students back quickly, while making sure the return to in-person learning is successful.
“I just need to talk to the principals a little bit about what some of the challenges are, and if we can’t start on (Feb. 22), when can we start?” Meeks said. “Maybe it is a staggered grade level start. I am not sure.”
Meeks said he intends to communicate the plan publicly Friday, but it may be done sooner so teachers can speak with students on Wednesday, since that cohort of students would not have another day in the classroom until Feb. 22.
That announcement would also include information about when the district plans to bring back students in third through fifth grade. They will likely return a week after younger students, Meeks said.
The move comes after Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington sent the district a letter Sunday recommending a return for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“There are no documented cases of transmission of COVID-19 within local elementary schools,” the health officials wrote. “Furthermore, the experience of the other two Routt County school districts and nearby Moffat County demonstrate that schools can be open to full-time, in-person instruction safely for students, staff and their communities.”
Citing recommendations from state health and education officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, local public health officials also recommend the district explore plans to bring back middle and high school students as well.
Having a clear vaccination plan for teachers and seeing lower local case counts and fewer quarantines in schools was something Meeks said he would like to see before returning to in-person learning for all students.
About 70% of the district’s staff will receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, with the second dose planned for March 5. Cases have declined from record highs last month but still remain within level orange metrics on the state’s new dial.
“I would like to think that we are not going to go through another stretch where we have 25 quarantines in 25 days,” Meeks said. “I hope we are past that, and I hope the community understands that for us to stay open and not quarantine, everybody has to do their part.”
School Board member Lara Craig said she was concerned about how the district will be able to limit the sizes of quarantines when students are brought back. When students return, they will no longer be cohorted in as small of groups, which could lead to large groups in quarantine.
“It is not rate of infection that I am worried about, it is the quarantining and how that affects families, students and teachers, having to pivot to remote learning,” Craig said.
She suggested the district explore staggering school start times, increasing testing access for students and running an extra bus to allow students to better maintain social distancing.
Harrington said additional testing likely wouldn’t have a huge effect on quarantines, because it can take a few days for a person to test positive. District Finance Director Mark Rydberg said multiple bus routes would be difficult.
Meeks said he wants to talk to bus drivers and cafeteria workers to see how they can best maintain social distancing in these settings when students return to school.
Deirdre Mewborn, a kindergarten teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School, suggested the district delay a return until March 1, which would allow her to better prepare her students for the change.
“The change from going from 10 kids to 20 in a classroom is going to be enormous, and I really think the kids just need time to process it and think about it,” Mewborn said.
The district is open to various options, Meeks said, maybe bringing students back for a partial week first or staggering when grades return. Board President Kelly Latterman asked Meeks to communicate the plan to parents as soon as possible.
“It will be great that you guys can say unequivocally this is the plan and quarantines may happen,” Latterman said. “But we understand the desire to get back to school for elementary kids and we’re going to do that, and then we are going to work on middle and high school next.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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More COVID-19 booster shots are getting approved, health officials are saying people can mix or match the brand of these shots, and vaccines for children between 5 and 11 are closer than ever.