Moffat County School District presents reopening plan to the public
Early Monday afternoon Moffat County School District administrators breathed a sigh of relief. After weeks of conversations, research, planning and work through “lots and lots of tears,” the district has a plan for opening schools with in-person learning this fall.
The work culminated in plans on paper and they were ready to start to roll them out. Then an email from the Colorado Department of Education arrived in their inboxes and changed everything.
“The CDE guidelines were significantly different than what we had come up with,” MCSD Superintendent Scott Pankow said. “The difference in guidance for ages and cohort requirements were probably the most altering.”
Pankow said the pre-CDE guidance plans were able to align with a parent survey that had been sent out in June, which had more than 800 responses. The survey revealed that more than 70% of parents wanted in-person learning. In addition, the most popular responses for “concerns” from parents were “no concerns” (28.6%) or that they did not want their children to have to wear a mask (14.7%).
Instead of releasing the initial plans department heads and principals had to come up with new plans that followed the guidance of the CDE. The CDE guidance included different precautions for students depending on their ages. Students 10 and younger were seen as not being as susceptible to contracting or passing on COVID-19 so the elementary restrictions were not as limiting. Middle school and high school-aged students restrictions were more pronounced.
“That (treating ages different) was the biggest surprise for us,” Pankow said. “We had no idea there was going to be a differentiation for ages.”
Dr. Elise Sullivan, the Board of Education secretary, started the plan with a presentation on what the medical field is finding out about COVID-19. She said that research has pointed out that wearing masks, cohorts and social distancing will help reduce viral spread in schools. Later, Sullivan noted that the different requirements for ages may have come because there is a study indicating that younger children have fewer ACE-2 receptors, which is where the virus attaches itself, therefore possibly making them less susceptible to catching the virus.
Pankow made it clear that what was being presented at the workshop was draft “A” and that it could be changed and adjusted as other guidance or mandates changed. The district’s timeline includes receiving input on its website from parents, making adjustments to a new draft and at the July 30 board meeting they will vote on a back-to-school plan.
During the workshop presentation department boards and principals discussed some of the key changes that they anticipated at this point when the 2020-21 school years begins.
One change that will be a part of the plan moving forward is that the district will start school no earlier than Aug. 31, which is a week later than initially planned.
Elementary school plan
Sunset Elementary Principal, Jill Hafey, said that coming up with the plan was, “the hardest work we’ve ever done.” Their plan is to divide each grade into a “cohort.” A cohort, means that as a group students will stay together in order to limit the number of interactions with other grades and other adults. The elementary students will still be in traditional classrooms with a classroom teacher. Paraprofessionals will be assigned to each “cohort” and will stay with that grade. Elementary students will not be required to wear masks and they will still have recess and specials (like music and physical education).
Middle School Plan
The challenge for the middle school was to figure out how to divide into cohorts and keep in-person learning possible. Middle School Assistant Principal Sara Linsacum said, “we wanted to do everything we could to see every student’s face, every day.” In order to keep student contact limited, CMS created a plan involving a morning group of students and an afternoon group of students. While each student will be physically present for half a day of school they will also have work outside of the classroom that will prepare them for their next in-person session. In addition, the CDE is requiring that middle school students wear a mask when inside the building.
High School plan
Moffat County High School principal Sarah Hepworth said that her team tried and tried to figure out smaller cohorts but was unable to come up with anything smaller than two groups. Due to the challenges of students taking up to eight classes a day, finding a smaller separation was not possible. Due to those challenges MCHS students will attend school every other day. As it stands, ninth graders and twelfth graders will attend school on one day and tenth and eleventh will attend the other day.
Hepworth did not hide how difficult it was to come up with a plan and said that she “did not love this plan, but it’s what we could do with what we have.” Another problem that has not been solved is how Fridays will work out. High Schoolers will also be required to wear masks while in the building.
In order to try to reduce the loss of eight class credits if a student is sick for a pro-longed period, Hepworth said the high school year will be divided into quarters with four credits offered per quarter. She said that if restrictions are removed she hoped that they would be able to go back to a semester plan.
One unsolved mystery for Hepworth and the high school is choir and band. She said that at this point there “is still a big gap that we are tying to figure out for those.”
Pre-school Director Stephanie Davis said that of all the plans, the pre-school was probably the least altered. Class size will remain around 16 per class room and most of the rest of the plan will be “standard practice.
Director of Curriculum Zach Allen explained that online and hybrid options will be available to students of all ages. If a parent chooses to keep their student home, there is a plan for them to receive an education through online learning with the school district. The elementary and high school levels will use the same online platform, while CMS will offer all classroom lessons online. Allen noted that The YES Opportunity School is already using the curriculum that will be used at the high school this year. Hepworth said that it was with a “heavy heart and deep gulp” that she had put her staff’s hard work on curriculum in order to follow an online platform’s curriculum for this year on hold. She did note that the curriculum would allow for standards to be met and for students to still advance as needed.
A significant change for the maintenance department will be the need to sanitize more than ever before, according to director Jarrod Ogden. He noted that there will be a need for more employees to maintain the standard established. Transportation for students is also up in the air because the CDE has not set a standard for how many students are allowed in a bus. The district will rely on enrollment numbers and indication of need in order to set bus routes.
The district’s food service will follow state restaurant guidelines and will pre-make meals. Food will not be served buffet style.
When it comes to screening and Covid testing, Myranda Lyons, the district nurse, said they will rely heavily on the public health department for guidance. If a student or a family member of a student tests positive for Covid-19, the department will use contact tracing to submit quarantine orders. At this point, it is unclear if an entire cohort would need to quarantine if a student gets a positive test. The district will not be taking temperatures of students prior to them coming into a school because of a lack of manpower. Additionally, Lyons said they are still looking at how they might ask parents to screen children before coming to school.
On the technology side of things, Director Vicki Haddan said that due to a possible need for students to learn from home, iPads will be handed out for every student K-12. One change is that families will be charged a one-time $20 ($5 for students on free and reduced lunch) fee per iPad in order to provide insurance for every device.
At the end of the planning meeting board president Jo Ann Baxter offered encouragement to district employees.
“I can’t even imagine what all you guys have done and I know it’s been a really hard task,” she said. “It’s beyond comprehension what it is we are expecting of our educational community… I’ve been involved in education many years and I’ve never seen anything like this. I applaud you very, very much.”
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Moffat County School District’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates that positivity rates have remained low for the second week in a row.