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Eagle County Schools: Hope is on horizon with vaccines, warmer weather

January 31, 2021, 8:59 am

Philip Qualman, Eagle County Schools Superintendent, and Kate Cocchiarella, President of the Board of Education, on Friday issued the following letter to families and staff of Eagle County Schools:

School districts across the state call us frequently to ask how Eagle County Schools is able to successfully operate our modified in-person model of instruction, and our answer is simple and straightforward: through the support and cooperation of our families and staff members. We rely on you and have been grateful for your efforts, your collaboration, your patience and grace. Never before has a community pulled together to this magnitude for the benefit of its children.

Phil Qualman

We’ve had a long hard road, however there is hope on the horizon in the form of widespread vaccinations and warmer weather. Let’s all hold the line as a community for a few more months to turn this situation around. In the meantime, please continue to be as safe and diligent with your health and safety outside of school as we are when in school.

On Saturday, January 23, 2021 about 100 of our staff members received their first dose of the vaccine. These were for specific positions with health care and special education responsibilities and limited by the availability of vaccines. The Governor announced today that vaccinations for educators will start on February 8. This puts the second dose on the schedule for the last week of February. Fully vaccinated staff are not expected to have to quarantine if determined to have had close contact with a positive case. This certainly gives us hope and optimism!

In the meantime, we expect the BinaxNOW home testing kits to be available for our staff in early February. The BinaxNOW kits allow for a rolling schedule of testing every five days. A weekly negative result can be reassuring for staff. In addition, this regimen catches asymptomatic positives quicker and allows for prompt medical care and quarantining.

An Urgent Request
This week, the district has had several student positive cases related to social gatherings among students outside of school. We understand that kids will be kids and need to socialize with their friends and family. We’re asking everyone to keep in mind that the presence of the virus remains high. We have adapted and learned to have a semblance of our normal routines by adhering to the safeguards established. Please help your children stay safe outside of school by limiting social gatherings to no more than two households at a time, and continue to keep social distance and wear face coverings while socializing, especially in close quarters.

We hope it is easy for everyone to imagine the ripple effect that a single positive case has on our ability to safely operate. Since Sunday of this week, 175 students and 16 staff members across the district have received quarantine orders. We simply don’t have a substitute pool large enough to cover these numbers of staff absences for the prolonged 10-day period. It is extremely important for families to help by limiting their children’s risk of exposure while outside of school. We are trying to avoid having to transition to widespread remote learning.

Adhering to the following critical practices remain essential to containing the virus for the rest of the school year.

  • If your child is sick, please keep them home.
  • If they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, please seek the medical advice of your family’s physician and have them tested.
  • If someone in your household is being tested for COVID-19, please keep your children home until the results are known.
  • If someone in your household is positive for COVID-19, the entire household must quarantine (and not leave their home) as directed by Public Health
  • If you or a student is directed to quarantine, they must remain home, stay away from others, not go to work or school, not have playdates or sleepovers, not engage in extracurricular activities.

Looking Ahead
There are many questions circulating in the community about what happens after our staff have been fully vaccinated in late February. We understand that many hope we can return to having in-person instruction five days a week.

Though we continue to explore that possibility, we are planning to remain in our current modified in-person mode of instruction through the end of this school year. This is because:

  • Students have been the primary source of positive cases in schools
  • We must still contain spread among students after staff have been vaccinated
  • Social distancing and mask wearing will continue to be required
  • We achieve social distancing at schools by small, dispersed classes at the elementary and middle school levels and the hybrid schedule at our large high schools
  • This requires our current modified in-person schedule until social distancing and mask wearing requirements are no longer necessary

The operational benefit of having staff vaccinated is that hopefully fewer of them will have to quarantine following close contact with a known positive case. Please understand that Public Health may still require vaccinated staff members to quarantine as they consider each incident on a case-by-case scenario. Keeping staff healthy and in schools increases our chances of providing in-person instruction as much as possible for the remainder of the year.

Next Year
We are already planning for the next school year and anticipate a more traditional schedule provided vaccination goals are met between now and then. However, the crisis caused many positive innovations in how we offer instruction and build relationships with students. The smaller class sizes allowed for more one-on-one interaction at the lower grades and practically eliminated discipline referrals. Shortly, we will share a list of innovations and seek parent feedback on the viability of keeping these improvements moving forward. Simply said, we don’t want to return to normal if we can move forward with a new normal.

Travel Restrictions
Another aspect of staying the course and finishing out the school year successfully is exercising extra caution during domestic and international travel and abiding by travel restrictions. Being aware of, and abiding by, CDC travel restrictions and regulations is everyone’s individual responsibility. We share the recent restrictions to help ensure everyone is aware and can plan accordingly. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the CDC recommends avoiding travel to over 180 countries, including popular Latin American and Carribean countries. Visit the CDC’s website for the most up-to-date information and check your destination if travel is planned for the upcoming breaks in February and April.

In a nutshell, if you must travel, please follow these guidelines: 

  • Before you travel, get tested with a viral test one to three days before your trip.
  • Do not travel if you are waiting for test results, test positive, or are sick. 
  • Follow all entry requirements for your destination and provide any required or requested health information.
  • During travel, wear a mask, stay at least six feet from people who are not traveling with you, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, and watch your health for signs of illness.
  • Before traveling back to the United States, get tested with a viral test one to three days before travel. Follow all destination and airline recommendations or requirements.
  • After your family returns home, everyone should self-quarantine (stay home) for 10 days.
  • Those who traveled can get tested three to five days after being home and, if negative, may be able to return to normal activities on the eighth day of your quarantine period (Health care providers will advise following your negative test).
  • If you don’t get your family tested, all who traveled should stay home for 10 days.
  • If anyone in your family had a known exposure to COVID-19 while traveling, everyone should delay return travel, quarantine from other people, get tested, and monitor their health.

If your family must travel and therefore quarantine upon your return, the district expects students to engage with classes remotely for the duration of their quarantine.

We have been extremely fortunate to successfully operate our modified in-person model of instruction this school year. This has been possible through the support and cooperation of our families and staff members. We are incredibly grateful for the ways our community has pulled together for our children!

We’re proud to be part of the Eagle County School District community, and grateful for the broad level of support among our families. With the finish line in sight, let’s stick together a little longer so we can keep learning until everyone has been vaccinated. Among other silver linings in the pandemic, may our strengthened community spirit continue even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat.


Philip Qualman, Superintendent
Kate Cocchiarella, President Board of Education

One Response to Eagle County Schools: Hope is on horizon with vaccines, warmer weather

  1. Kirstin Reply

    February 8, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Mr Qualman,
    if school is the safest place for our children, as so many officials and teachers have suggested, why cant we return to 5 days/ week? The teachers and students have been fantastic at wearing masks and staying safe. In person classroom learning is the most effective and efficient form of learning. disruption of the week with wednesday home schooling is a disruption in the momentum of the week. I have seen a regression in the learning of my 3 children and we need to be in school 5 days/week NOW!!

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