Roaring Fork School District pre-K through third grade students returned to in-person learning on Oct. 19, with up to eighth graders slated for next Monday and high schoolers potentially returning the week after that.
The phased approach gives the district a chance to practice protocols with the highest-need, lowest risk demographic, Public Information Officer Kelsy Been explained.
“We’ve been slower to resume in-person learning and we’ve tried to take a really cautious approach,” she said.
Now that it’s being implemented, the plan pretty closely mirrors those in other districts — and it seems to be working.
“It looks like our schools were really ready to welcome kids back in,” Been said. “Students and teachers have been building relationships since the beginning of the school year, so it was fun for them all to get to meet each other.”
They’ll still be masked on the bus and in class for the foreseeable future — though not during the free breakfast and lunch the district has pledged to provide through the end of the year. Free seven-day meal packs are also being offered for curbside pickup from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays at Carbondale and Basalt Middle Schools and Glenwood Springs High School.
Physical distancing is enforced with no visitors allowed, and the buildings themselves are being upgraded and sanitized to curb the spread of infection as much as possible. Families are obliged to assess their kids for any symptoms each morning and no sick kids should be sent to school. The school day is slightly shorter, and efforts are being made to keep students with the same group of people as much as possible by conducting specials remotely, among other efforts.That will likely prove more challenging for middle and especially high school.
“If you’re able to limit each individual’s close contacts, then if someone’s exposed you have fewer students or staff to quarantine,” Been said. “As students get older, their schedules get more complicated and their cohorts get bigger.”
And even in the grades currently headed back to school, around 130 students will remain entirely remote through a special online school headed by Carbondale trustee and educator Ben Bohmfalk. The arrangement also gives medically high-risk staff a way to stay distanced, as well. According to Been, the decision to return had supporters and detractors among both parents and teachers.
“We were certainly hearing from all different parties who felt we were making the right decision or the wrong decision. It’s been nice to see us come together and engage even when we haven’t always agreed,” she said. “ It’s hard not to feel some anxiety because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but we’ve really worked to make sure that people feel safe.”