It is absolutely our hope and desire to return to face to face instruction in the fall. I have already begun to engage our staff to study the regulations, guidelines and plans of other districts so that we may build the best possible plan for ensuring the safety and security of our students and staff, while giving them the opportunity to return to school in the fall…
— from ‘Superintendent’s Message’ by ASD School Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza, July 2020
As mentioned in Part Four of this editorial series, individual Colorado school districts are granted “control of instruction” by Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution. That control, for the time being at least, extends to certain public health practices during a pandemic. For instance. Should we allow children, teens, and teaching staff to gather together in classrooms and breathe the same air for up to 7 hours a day?
Ultimately, the choice is up to the parents.
I had the pleasure of interviewing two Pagosa Springs educators last week: Kym LeBlanc-Esparza, our new Archuleta School District (ASD) Superintendent; and Angela Reali-Crossland, School Director at Pagosa Peak Open School, our district-authorized K-8 charter school.
Both Dr. LeBlanc-Esparza and Ms. Reali-Crossland are working — separately — with staff and parents to design workable plans for ‘face-to-face’ instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, starting on September 8. Both have access to recent staff and parent surveys, and to the 18-page Colorado Department of Education (CDE) guidance document, REOPENING SCHOOLS, which you can download here.
The challenges are not small ones, and one of those challenges is financial. Colorado schools are funded according to the number of students enrolled on October 1 of each school year. Most parents who have responded to the recent surveys seem willing to enroll their children to participate in ‘face-to-face’ classroom settings. But not all parents are so inclined, so our schools are developing ‘distance-learning’ options for parents who wish to keep kids at home, while still being enrolled in school and benefiting from teacher instruction.
Generally speaking, added options cost more money… as will the new sanitation protocols that schools are required to put in place.
“We take it very seriously that we are in charge of educating people’s children, and we want to do that well. And the hard part is, we don’t know what conditions we’re going to be facing, four weeks from now. When I think back to four weeks ago, and you put that in the same context, you say to yourself, ‘Alright, we’re going to make the best plan we possibly can…’ But I think it was Dr. Fauci who said, ‘We don’t get to dictate the timeline. The virus dictates the timeline.’ And he’s right. So we do what we can, to plan for kids to be safe…”
We chatted about the lack of timely testing in the US — a particularly pertinent issue, if we can believe recent studies showing that 80 percent of children carrying the COVID virus are asymptomatic.
Meanwhile, we had just heard that San Juan Basin Public Health is cutting back on the number of daily tests they can administer.
“It seems like a very inopportune time to slow down on any kind of testing. And I know, if they could, they would probably not be cutting back,” she told me.
“In our case, the guidance we got from Colorado Education Commissioner Anthes this week was, if a student displays any of the symptoms — fever, obviously, any of those things — we definitely need to refer them immediately to San Juan Basin Health, for testing. What I understand is that we’re not experiencing the same [testing] shortages here, that they are in Durango. So that’s a blessing. But at the same time recognizing that, being a smaller community, we don’t have as big of an ‘n set’ to draw from either, in terms of the number of tests we have.”
The CDE guidance — which is, by default, designed as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for schools all across the state — uses the word “test” only once in its 18 pages.
Refer symptomatic employees and students to a health care professional for evaluation and potential testing, as well as to the CDPHE Symptom Support tool.
We note that this guidance mentions “potential testing”… not “required testing.”
We might also note that San Juan Basin Public Health has generally been focused on testing individuals who are experiencing “COVID symptoms”. Beginning with said symptoms, SJBPH has tested about 12,300 people in La Plata and Archuleta Counties. Only 247 tests have come back ‘positive’ for the novel coronavirus.
It would appear, then, that only 2 percent of the individuals who have presented themselves with “COVID symptoms” have actually tested positive here in Southwest Colorado. Clearly, “symptoms” are not directly correlated with “COVID”.
To put this another way:
Hypothetically, if every single one of the 1,700 children in the Archuleta School District were to arrive at school, on a given day, with “COVID symptoms”… fever, dry cough, shortness of breath… they would all be sent home and told to isolate. But statistically speaking, only 34 of them would likely test positive for COVID-19. If they were even tested…
But we also have research suggesting that most of the 34 kids infected with COVID would be showing no symptoms at all.
A challenging situation for schools.
Dr. LeBlanc-Esparza spoke about ASD’s three proposed educational offerings, including ‘online-at-home’, ‘in-person-all-week’ — and a ‘hybrid option’ where kids would attend school for a couple of days, and then have a couple of days of distance learning.
“We know that we’re going to have families that… it will meet their needs to be completely online, at home. We understand that, and we want to support that and give them that option.
“I also recognize that there will be times during the year that we’re going to have to limit the sizes of the classes that are learning in-person with us, to maintain that social distancing — in order to ensure that kids get the instruction that they need, especially with the limitations of scheduling and cohorting kids together, and that kind of thing…
“If we are going to be cleaning the buildings between groups of kids, we need time to do that, So, we can do a couple of days with one group, a couple of days with another group — as long as there’s a cleaning day in between…”
Pagosa Peak Open School, our local charter school, operates mostly independently from ASD. With their typically smaller class sizes, they have decided to offer just two options for parents. Online-at-home… or five days a week, in-person…
Read Part Eight, tomorrow…
Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 based on the belief that community leaders often tell only one side of the story… while the public deserves to hear all sides.