On track for brick and mortar learning
By Kendra Walker
The Gunnison Watershed School District has been working diligently to figure out how to safely bring students, teachers and staff back to school this fall under the realities of the coronavirus pandemic.
Through guidance from Gunnison County, the district is prepared to return to school under a blended learning plan that directly correlates with the county’s “Coronameter” color-coded risk level indicator system. Superintendent Leslie Nichols shared the plan with families and staff in a video message last week.
Under Green, Blue and Yellow levels, the schools will run 100 percent brick and mortar, with COVID-19 safety and health practices in place. The county is currently at the Blue level, “where I hope that we can stay for quite some time,” said Nichols.
As of now, fall sports will occur onsite starting on August 10, but the district is still waiting on guidance from the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), said Nichols.
At an Orange level, schools would run on a hybrid approach between onsite learning and remote learning. Under this plan, the goal is to reduce the concentration of students in the buildings by 50 percent, with students trading off days spent on site—50 percent of students would attend school Monday and Wednesday, while the other 50 percent would attend Tuesday and Thursday, with everyone learning remotely the remainder of the school week. “We recognize that families would need to be on the same schedule regardless of levels of school that their kids are in,” said Nichols.
At a Red level, the district would require a 100 percent remote learning approach, with students learning remotely five days a week.
“Generally speaking, people are ready to get back to school,” said Nichols, referring to a district survey sent out to parents, students and staff for input on how to make people feel safe returning to school this fall. The district received more than 1,500 survey responses. “People want distancing and hand washing and disinfection and sickness policies and symptom monitoring, and I can assure you that all of that is included in all our return to school plans.”
Continuing, Nichols cautioned, “We recognize that we are launching into a permanent new normal for how we do school.” Regardless of risk level, regular hand washing and respiratory etiquette will be put in place, as well as increased cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting practices. The district is considering non-chemical disinfecting options including UV Lytbots, which Gunnison Valley Hospital uses, and hypochlorous acid, which is used in sanitizing wash solutions and swimming pools. “All those protocols are still landing,” said Nichols.
Face coverings will be expected to be used by staff, students and parents while on campus, but there will exceptions, including when teaching or learning requires facial visuals; when students are working independent in stations at least six feet apart; and when students are engaging in a physical activity where face masks would hinder breathing or communication.
Students will also be screened daily with their first-hour teacher, and parents are asked to screen their kids daily for COVID-19 symptoms. If sick, students and staff will be required to test negative for COVID-19 and be free of fever for 72 hours in order to go back to school. If a student or staff member tests positive, they will be required to isolate for 10 days.
In addition to health and safety preparations, the district is working to fine-tune its remote learning practices. Nichols verified that every student will be issued a Chromebook or laptop in the fall. “There were lots of successes but also a lot of concerns around remote learning,” she said, recalling the quick transition to online learning this spring.
In the survey results, both students and staff expressed the desire for more consistency and clarity of remote learning expectations moving forward.
The district will continue to work closely with Gunnison County on the back to school plan and the district is prepared to stay flexible with operations as the environment shifts, said Nichols. “All of this takes all of us,” she concluded. “That [county] partnership is strong and our partnership with you and the entire community continues to be essential in making all of this work.”