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School districts plan for students’ return

In this September file photo, eighth grade students from East Grand Middle School stencil anti-dumping messages on a Granby street. Both East and West Grand school districts are hoping to open to in person learning next month following March’s abrupt closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sky-Hi News file photo

Grand County’s school districts want to go back to school next month, but there is still a lot of work that needs done before that can happen.

Both West and East Grand school districts want to open for in person learning this fall after closing abruptly in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working with the Grand County Public Health and the Incident Management Team, along with district stakeholders, to figure out exactly what that might look like.

The districts will be releasing reopening plans on Wednesday. However, these plans will be subject to change, and the district superintendents both are looking to hear feedback from students, parents, teachers and administrators.

There’s a lot to consider when making these plans. From how recess and bus rides will work to what exact situations students will be required to wear masks, the two districts are trying to navigate all sorts of social situations intrinsic to the school day.

Beyond that, the districts might have to redo plans if new public health guidance is issued or the county sees a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“We’re not delaying because we want to keep people in suspense,” West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard said. “We don’t want to put something out that’s going to change in a blink.”

West Grand wants to open Aug. 24 after pushing back the original opening date of Aug. 17. Peppard said the extra week is intended to give teachers more time to prepare for the altered school year, including setting up socially distanced classrooms and additional training.

East Grand is planning to return to school Aug. 24 as well. After such an abrupt and prolonged departure for students, one big question is how to ease them back into the school day.

While nothing has been made official, Superintendent Frank Reeves said one idea the district is considering to transition students back to school is a “soft opening.” The approach would include students coming back in small groups and allowing for an adjustment period.

As for teachers wanting to return, Reeves said there’s been a spectrum of responses, just as there has been with many issues surrounding the coronavirus. Some teachers are ready to return immediately, while others don’t know if they’ll feel safe.

He said every teacher misses their students, and most want to meet this year’s classes face to face, even if it is briefly.

“They want to see their kids,” Reeves said. “No teachers want just distance learning.”

Gov. Jared Polis told Colorado superintendents that he doesn’t want to issue an executive order outlining how schools should reopen in the fall. Instead, the governor is encouraging superintendents to work with county health officials to find the best method for each district.

Peppard said this is a good thing because it allows the districts to take into account county infection rates, along with the size and abilities of individual school districts.

“When we’re talking about planning for 450 students versus 80,000 students — it’s a completely different type of thing,” Peppard said. “Because we’re small we’re going to be able to be a little more nimble.”

Grand County’s two districts have been working to put out communications in tandem and are receiving similar directions from county health officials. Even so, there may be some disparities to their approaches.

“What opening looks like may be a little different,” Reeves said. “We’re not a big district by any means, but we’re so much bigger than them.”

East Grand will put out a “skeleton” of a reopening plan on Wednesday after a three day retreat focusing on what school might look like. The outline will be flexible and subject to feedback, which Reeves said is critical in planning for these times.

“By Wednesday we won’t have every detail, but hopefully enough to get comments from (everyone),” Reeves said. “We hope to answer as many questions as possible.”


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