Schools study options for fall

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Students may shift between in-person, remote learning

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When students return to school this fall, they could undergo temperature checks at doors, attend on staggered schedules, and shift back and forth between in-school and online learning, under plans being developed by Ouray and Ridgway schools to comply with state guidelines for reopening.

A recently released draft toolkit from the Colorado Department of Education advised school districts to plan simultaneously for in-person classes with safety precautions or for remote classes, or a combination of both. Final decisions won’t be made until closer to the start of the school year, Ouray and Ridgway school leaders said, so they’re currently working on preliminary plans and options.

‘Our opening date is August 31. I don’t see that we’re going to be able to open without some kind of restrictions,” Ridgway Superintendent Susan Lacy said.

She and Ouray School District Lead Administrator Kenneth Nelson are both working on surveys for families to get feedback and gauge needs before moving forward.

After being caught off guard this spring with the sudden closure of school buildings, teachers in Ouray will be prepared to move back and forth if needed, Nelson said. They’ll have an online system where teachers can put their lesson plans, handouts and assignments, and where students will know to tune in for classes, which he said should enable a smoother transition.

That could be needed if cases spike in the county, or if someone in a school building tests positive. The CDE’s guidance calls for closing a school for two to five days for cleaning and contact tracing if a positive case is confirmed.

Both Nelson and Lacy said their small populations may help the schools stay open this fall.

As long as the state’s restriction on gatherings of more than io people is increased, Ouray’s classes won’t need to be split up. We never have more than 5o people in one place at one time,” Nelson said. “That’s why we’re so confident that we feel like we can put something together to make sure face-to-face learning happens.”

If returning to all in-person classes isn’t possible, Ridgway students might have a staggered schedule, where they alternate days attending classes in person and remotely. “That obviously is not ideal,” Lacy said, “but I still feel like, if we had to move to much more online, even bringing kids in in small groups once or twice a week just to have some kind of connection and interaction is important”

Unless the schools are ordered to completely close the buildings, Lacy said, she would make every effort to have some in-person classes.

The guidelines also suggest keeping 6 feet between students and teachers “to the extent possible,” which might require changes to things like group activities or working in pairs, CDE said.

Ridgway teachers may be asked to remove things from their classrooms so there are fewer surfaces to clean, Lacy said. She’s also thinking about ways classes can be held outdoors more frequently.

The schools may rearrange walking patterns to limit students passing each other in close proximity, sending students in and out of different doors and hallways, and changes to food service also are under consideration.

Ridgway students may eat lunch in staggered shifts to have fewer people in the cafeteria, or students may eat lunch in their classrooms, instead, she said.

Transportation is causing Lacy the biggest headache: CDE instructs that 6 feet of distance between people should be maintained, even on school buses, with an estimate that a typical n-passenger bus could have about zo students, with empty rows between them.

“I sit there and do the math: how much gas, how much you’re paying the driver, how many kids you’re getting to school, who’s monitoring if they’re staying in their seat,” Lacy said. “That’s a big one; we have not solved that yet.”

Running multiple bus routes “would be an additional cost to our district,” Nelson said, so the decision would depend on how many students are riding the buses each day. He has also considered no longer allowing parents to walk with their children inside the building in the morning, to limit the number of people passing through.

He said whether the school would check students’ temperatures when they arrive is still up for discussion. “There’s some differing opinions about the effectiveness of temperature checks. In order to screen someone’s temperature, you’re breaking those social-distancing guidelines,” he said, and added that doing so wouldn’t identify people who don’t have symptoms but are contagious. “Those would be details that we would have to look at once we got closer to the school year.”

The CDE said its guidance “will be adjusted over the coming weeks,” and the local school leaders said they don’t anticipate finalizing plans for more than a month.

“We’d like to probably, by the end of July, have a pretty solid plan in place,” Nelson said. “We’re working based on the data that we currently have at the moment, which is certainly going to change.” Nelson will be working with the district’s new superintendent to develop those final plans, as Tod Lokey will start in the position July 1. But a lot could change by then, or even by August, so nothing is for sure now.

“While we’re starting to put together ideas, we won’t really unroll those ideas until August, because that’s when we’re going to have more clarity from the CDE,” Lacy said.

Liz Teitz is a corps member with Report forAmerica, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms and has chosen the Ouray County Plaindealer as a host newsroom. For more information please visit www. reportforamerica.org.