The Eagle County School District issued a press release Monday that COVID-19 conditions have improved enough to start a modified in-person school year on Tuesday, Aug. 25.
With local infection numbers tapering off in recent weeks after a recent peak of 26 new cases on July 24, school officials felt confident enough to launch the school year two weeks from Tuesday with in-person learning. Eagle County as of Monday afternoon has seen 1,126 cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths, although no one has been ventilated locally since April.
Here’s the press release from Eagle County Schools:
Eagle, CO 8/10/20 – The Eagle County School District announced today that due to the decreasing presence of COVID-19 in our community, it is possible to start the new school year with a modified in-person mode of instruction. According to Eagle County Public Health, the conditions in the community improved just enough to move us into the Cautious category. Continued vigilance to the commitments of containment is more important than ever to not cross back over to the Concerned category. Please continuing wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance.
EVHS, BMHS, and VSSA will start with an A/B hybrid schedule that divides student counts in half. When one half is at school and learning in-person, the other half is at home learning remotely. Teachers have engaged in the flipped model of classroom instruction to prepare for this schedule. The “flip” is instead of doing homework to show they learned the lesson, students do the lecture or research at home, then collaborate with teachers and peers in-person to put their lessons in action.
All other schools will start with four-days of in-person instruction and one-day of remote learning. Students are organized into cohorts to reduce interactions and cross-transmission of illness. All teachers are used as classroom/cohort teachers to reduce class sizes to their minimum possible numbers. Teachers will use the one-day when students are remote for collaborative lesson planning. Community partners are organizing “fifth-day care and activities” for families.
Though the district has pointed to Public Health’s Key Performance Indicators as a tool to guide its decision that the public could follow along with, administrators point out several other influences, including the current Public Health Order, consultations with other school districts, discussion with the Governor’s office and Colorado Department of Education, plus negotiations with the Eagle County Education Association. As the name suggests, the Key Performance Indicators best represents the trends of the virus in our community.
As a community, we are heading in the right direction and need to see even greater improvement over time. Notably, there has been a significant decrease in cases over the past seven days and the percent of positive testing has dropped from 17% to 10% over the last 14 days. In the same time period, only four patients have been hospitalized. Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical have started local testing to improve the turnaround time for lab submissions.
The school district thanks the many organizations working tirelessly to provide accurate data, fast turnaround times on testing, and excellent care to those in need. The most at-risk are being protected by community behavior, so hospitalizations and severe illness are both very low. We thank the community for coming together to reverse our trends of increasing concern and getting us headed back down toward safer conditions. Please keep at it so we can remain in school as much as possible.
In addition, Superintendent Philip Qualman asks that parents considering temporary alternate options to public school keep their students enrolled in their local school.
“We understand that modified in-person learning is not a great option for many families, but ask that they keep their children enrolled in their neighborhood school,” said Qualman. “If you’ve organized a community group of children for a micro-school, please keep them enrolled and engaged with the remote learning options at their regular school.”
Such students can still pick-up a Chromebook and login on a daily basis to review and participate in lessons, resources, and content. They can still join class calls and interact with their friends.
Schools are funded based on enrollment as of October 1, 2020. With the budget cuts from the state due to COVID-19, even temporary reductions in enrollment may result in staffing cuts. When conditions normalize, the district may not have adequate staff for returning students.
“We hope parents understand that this remains a temporary issue and are careful not to make temporary decisions that have long term consequences,” Qualman explained. “As a district, we’ve prioritized the recruitment and training of the best possible educators and we need the community’s help in keeping them here.”
With the combination of TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment, the school district was still recovering from cuts in funding and staff from the 2008 recession when the pandemic hit. It will likely take another decade to return to last year’s budget due to the COVID cuts. Declining enrollment, even on a temporary basis (due to the October count), compounds the loss.
“We’ve been very upfront about the challenges the community’s school district faces. And, we’ve stressed the need for us to all work together to get through this difficult period,” Qualman finished. “Give us a chance with modified in-person instruction. It’s our best chance to keep the teachers for when we get back to normal.”