School district continues work on reopening plan

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Archuleta School District (ASD) staff and teachers are continuing to work toward a final plan for how the 2020-2021 school year will look when it begins.

On July 21, meetings were held for teachers and parents to offer feedback on ASD’s draft reopening plan, which is available on the district’s website, www.mypagosaschools.com.

Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza explained on July 23 that, following meetings, she and other staff members categorized the questions and feedback received to eliminate duplications and clean up the feedback.

The biggest question received, she noted, was about the blended learning A/B model, where different groups of students go on designated days in order to decrease the number of people in the school buildings.

“That was harder to give them an answer to than it seems, and it’s only because the schools all have to align and do the same thing in order for it to work for families,” she said, noting the leadership team’s meeting Tuesday would work toward defining that. “The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) identified seven different ways you could potentially do that, which sounds incredibly complex. … We’ve got to sit down and look at what makes the most sense for our schools and our staff.”

LeBlanc-Esparza noted that a number of people also asked about masks, and if elementary school students are going to be required to wear masks.

The superintendent referenced the state’s mask order currently in effect, which states that everyone above age 10 wear a mask.

“And that eliminates our elementary. That said, we’re recommending it, we’re just not requiring it,” she said.

LeBlanc-Esparza noted the district is focusing on a positive campaign with students around keeping them safe, and added that, for those times when distancing is not possible, everyone will have a mask provided by the district.

The district also received a number of questions about what health screenings will look like, she explained.

She noted the CDE’s guidance has been to work hard to partner with families to have students screened at home before they ever get on the bus or head to school.

She added that the district is looking into the possibility of having an app for parents to log health screening information before students get to the school buildings, thereby lessening the number of students who would need to be screened at that point. 

To help answer those questions received during the feedback meetings, the district has created an FAQ section related to the school reopening and reopening plan. That is accessible via www.mypagosaschools.com.

The site includes answers, if available, to questions such as:

• “What happens if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school?”

• “How and when will the schools health screen students?” 

• “What are the plans for providing PPE to students and staff?”

But, she noted, the district has heard positive feedback regarding the planning process.

“Overwhelmingly, we’ve had board support, we’ve have staff express gratitude for its flexibility and our willingness to engage staff in hashing out the details,” she said, noting the whole-district approach to creating the plan.

She added that parents have appreciated being able to offer their opinions and have appreciated the district’s options — something she noted neighboring districts haven’t offered, only offering purely online and purely in-person options.

“I don’t feel like it’s that simple. I believe we owe our community more than that, and I would tell you our staff believes we owe our community more than that,” she said.

The district is also taking into account new guidelines released by the CDE last week that include requirements and suggestions for districts — some of which surprised educators across the state, LeBlanc-Esparza noted.

Among those things that caught educators off guard was a change that calls for distancing of 3 to 6 feet.

“Their epidemiologist started the discussion with, you know, ‘We’re comfortable, given the body of evidence around young people, as long as you’re social distancing 3 to 6 feet. Obviously the further apart the better, but if you can only accomplish 3 feet, we’re comfortable with that,’” LeBlanc-Esparza said. “And, honestly, that’s where -— many of the educators across the state were not overly pleased with that statement because they really didn’t feel like that was a safe statement to be made.”

LeBlanc-Esparza noted that the epidemiologist report reflects that, under the age of 10, kids are more at risk of getting COVID from the adults than the other way around.

Moving forward, ASD will continue to solicit feedback from its staff and families, including through another set of surveys.

Those surveys, she noted, will repeat some of the same questions surrounding comfort levels with different things related to attending school that appeared on the first survey.

The district will also hold focus groups with teachers to determine what teachers need, namely if a lot of educating is going to be digital.

Next week, principals and leaders from each of the district’s schools will focus on school-specific plans.

In the last two weeks of August, LeBlanc-Esparza explained, the district will know what public health and executive orders are in place, what the trends look like, if the mask mandate is making a difference and if the tourist season slows down.

That, along with survey results, will allow the district to determine what the beginning of the school year will look like, she reported.