Eagle County Schools wraps up an academic year unlike any other
District officials are still trying to sort out what school will look like when it's time to start again in August
The curious COVID-19 school year ended Friday with students, staff, and parents of Eagle County Schools already asking what next year’s classes will look like.
Public school classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 18. How much will be remote and how much will be in person remains to be determined.
“Undoubtedly, school will look different. There are a whole new set of protocols and priorities for schools to put into place in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” said Jeremy Meyer, the director of communications for the Colorado Department of Education, in a statement.
May not know until July
Eagle County School District officials say they’re planning the best they can with the data they have, and will continue through the end of next month. But they might not be able to announce concrete plans until July, Superintendent Phil Qualman said.
“We’re actively planning for different scenarios. As part of our planning, we will be surveying parents and staff in June to collect their input around several issues and scenarios,” wrote Dan Dougherty, the school district’s chief communications officer, in an email.
“In normal times, we adjust and determine master schedules in the month of June,” Dougherty said. “This year, we’ll likely be master planning through most of June, then looking toward early July for having a plan ready to share more broadly.”
Right now, public health guidelines in Eagle County restrict public gatherings to 10 people. The county is set to transition to the next phase of its COVID-19 recovery on Monday with its latest public health order, which would allow gatherings up to 50 people.
If all goes as planned, Eagle County would reach its next transition phase by June 22 when gatherings of 250 people would be allowed. Whether that includes schools remains to be determined, and whether local schools can get a variance on that 250-person limit from state and county health officials remains undetermined.
“Much depends on how the community and virus respond to the relaxing of restrictions,” Dougherty said.
Private schools planning in-person classes
It’s less complicated for private schools.
“We plan for our schools to be open live and in person,” said Steve O’Neil, Vail Christian High School’s head of school. “We are not anticipating a virtual learning or blended model, at least at the beginning of the year.”
For now, though, Vail Christian classes start Aug. 17 with students and teachers in the same room, at a respectful distance, of course, and observing all the other health precautions, O’Neil said.
“The safety and health of our students and staff are first and foremost,” O’Neil said.
Vail Christian is 135 students with plenty of extra room in Grace Auditorium and the gym. Staying 6 feet apart is not a problem, O’Neil said.
“This a time when a smaller school size is an advantage,” O’Neil said.
In-person is preferable
School buildings closed March 13 as one of the steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“None of us could have anticipated the shift that had begun,” Qualman said. “All of us are working to return to in-person instruction, but there are challenges.”
Large numbers of staff and students will need to be out of the building for long stretches to either self-quarantine or care for a loved one.
“We’re in an uphill climb, but we’ll keep moving forward,” Qualman said.