In the last couple of weeks we have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in our region. At this time, we recognize that different opinions exist about the K-12 community’s next steps. Our job – first and foremost – is to provide educational benefits to the children of our community. We continue to explore appropriate educational delivery models as we want to serve each individual based on their personal beliefs, comfort level and needs.
We continue to monitor this situation in partnership with relevant policy makers in our community (health department, medical, county, city, tribal, school district, and post-secondary leaders). I meet with these policy makers twice a week to look at local data, outbreaks, and mitigation measures to ensure that our community remains ready to address the needs as they arise related to the pandemic. Many may not know that decisions being made are not made in isolation and guidance is being provided by outside experts. School districts are guided by state authorities and we appreciate the strong consultation we have with our local public health department.
There is a lot of information out there regarding the COVID-19 virus. Oftentimes, there is conflicting information. I want to share a segment of guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Although children and adolescents play a major role in amplifying influenza outbreaks, to date, this does not appear to be the case with COVID-19. Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from the COVID-19 infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection.”
Again, we are learning new information on this virus daily and we will continue to shape plans based on what we know as fact.
As a public-school district, we are obligated and charged with the education of all children. Many have asked why children aren’t “required” to wear facial coverings. Again, we recognize that our community has many different thoughts, ideas, and opinions on what is right under the current pandemic. Our job is to ensure that we offer opportunities that meet the unique needs of our families regardless of their position. That being said, we continue to work on ensuring that we can offer a variety of settings for the education of our children in the community as we prepare to return to school
Next week, our district will begin offering summer programming for students at district schools. If you have interest or need more information about our summer programming, contact your school’s administrators. At this time, our guidelines are as follows:
- TRANSPORTATION: Since our school buses may not be able to ensure social distancing based on the numbers of children that may be transported, we will require that students board and deboard the bus with a face covering. If a student forgets one, a face covering will be available to them at the door. If a parent is uncomfortable with our approach, we encourage them to find other transportation options for summer programming. While in proximity of others outside of their siblings on the bus, the mask should be worn. Bus drivers will also wear facial covering.
- FACE COVERINGS: Once at school, students are encouraged to wear face coverings, again while in proximity to others. We recognize that some children have numerous challenges with face coverings and we will honor and respect their right not to wear one in the classroom based on their need. While we will have students spaced, children will often gravitate toward others. We don’t intend to create an atmosphere that is uncomfortable for children. Since all the evidence we have indicates that children have low risk of being receptors or carriers of the virus, we believe allowing as much normalcy as possible is important for the academic and social emotional well-being of all students. The guidance we have continued to receive from State officials is that we can encourage facial coverings, but not require them of children. We will ensure that students' rights are protected regardless of whether they choose to wear a facial covering or not while in the classroom.
- STAFF EXPECTATIONS: Teachers – as adults – do have risk of being carriers or having adverse impacts from the virus. They will be required to wear facial coverings while in proximity to students. We have purchased some face shields that may allow easier delivery of instruction. For young children, facial expressions and lip movement is a key part of learning – especially as they begin reading and exploring phonetic sounds, and these face shields will allow that to occur. We will try these out this summer session and we are likely to further deploy them as needed when the school year begins.
- HEALTH SCREENINGS: Health screenings will occur regularly to ensure that those with symptoms remain at home and not become a risk to others. Should your child or a staff member experience COVID like symptoms, they should not come to school. Those symptoms include: fever of 100.3 or higher; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; chills; muscle aches; sore through; or new loss of taste or smell.
Additionally, we are also monitoring guidance regarding the full opening of schools in August. Since this information is ever changing, we want to inform our community of some important opportunities to hear further information on expectations for our return to school. We will offer in-person instruction for those who are ready to send their children back to school. We will also honor the rights of individuals who may not be ready by providing access to other forms of education, including a blended model (part-time at school with smaller class size) or remote learning.
- On July 30, we will invite leaders from our employee associations to examine state recommendations for conditions of reopening schools. We will review these guidelines and accept input from our association leadership.
- On August 5, we will have an open forum via Zoom for all Durango 9-R staff to share these plans, including schedules, safety measures, and expectations.
- On August 6 & 7, we will host multiple community sessions to share the reopening plans and expectations. All of these opportunities will provide an opportunity for input and feedback.
- By Monday, August 10, parents will be asked to identify the final model of learning for their student when their child returns to school on August 25.
We appreciate the concerns that parents have identified. We will continue to work with our school community and stakeholders regarding our full “return to learn” plan for the Fall semester as the scenario regarding the pandemic continues to rapidly change and evolve. I appreciate the feedback I have received from parents and again recognize how this topic touches a variety of nerves based on the beliefs and varying amounts of information each parent or family member has on this crisis. We know that some families have real concern due to health conditions of family members or themselves. We support each and every family based on their circumstances.
As we plan to reopen school, we will continue to be prepared for rapid changes that may need to occur based on decisions made outside of Durango 9-R. Our staff will be using a Learning Management System that will provide one common platform to access learning resources, identify assignments, and return work. This system will allow a more seamless continuity of learning should the conditions and guidance change for the school district. Additionally, we will offer training for parents and students on their access to this system once school begins.
I appreciate your patience and look forward to a resumption of in-person schooling in Durango. Know that your feedback is appreciated and my door is always open. Feel free to reach out to me by email at DSnowberger@durangoschools.org or by calling my office at (970) 375-3819.
Durango School District 9-R