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Eagle County Schools to start year with modified in-person instruction

Vail area schools decision was based on Eagle County's downgrade to 'concerned' for COVID-19 risk level

Battle Mountain High School will start the year with an A/B hybrid schedule that divides student counts in half.
Special to the Daily

Teachers and students in local public schools will start the academic year in the classroom.

Eagle County Schools’ decision to start schools with a modified in-classroom model on Aug. 25 came hours after the county downgraded its COVID-19 risk level from concerned to cautious on the county’s weekly performance indicator graphic.

The color-coded graphic, with its needle lowering from red to yellow on Monday, prompted the school district’s announcement, said Daniel Dougherty, spokesperson for Eagle County Schools.

“If it had remained in red, we were prepared to start school remotely,” Dougherty said.

The needle on the graphic moves based on five indicators: local disease spread trends; the number of new cases; percent of tests that come back positive; hospital admissions, medical visits and severe disease; and state and national trends that impact Eagle County.

Those indicators are assigned values which are inputted into a large equation designed to represent how much risk for COVID-19 there is in the community. The equation, through its mathematical analysis, is designed to be as objective as possible, said county commissioner Kathy Chandler Henry. Subjective elements exist, however, as with all human endeavors which strive to be objective.

In the Monday update to Eagle County’s COVID-19 risk level graphic, bullet points were listed below the graphic in an attempt to explain the needle’s placement on the graphic.

“51% of new cases could not recall a known exposure to someone with illness or confirmed COVID-19. A higher percentage reflects undetected cases in the community. Many cases refuse to identify close contacts and close contacts refusal to follow quarantine orders, which perpetuates spread in the community impacting all residents,” reads one of the bullet points.

Another bullet point acknowledges that the county’s public health department knows how the numbers they input affect the graphic.

“To move this indicator to yellow, we need to reduce cases to 96 or lower over a two week period of time,” the bullet point reads.

Chandler Henry said in inputting the numbers, the county’s public health department was aware of the fact that the needle placement on Monday’s COVID-19 risk level graphic would be a determining factor in the school district’s decision.

Nevertheless, Chandler Henry said she believes the inputting of the numbers into the equation that results in the needle’s movement on the graph is done as objectively as possible.

“They’re all based on actual data,” she said.

Half of students in school at once

Eagle Valley High School, Battle Mountain High School, and Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy will start with a hybrid schedule that divides student counts in half. When half the students are at school and learning in-person, the other half will be at home learning remotely.

To prepare for this schedule, teachers have adopted the flipped model of classroom instruction. This means that students participate in the lecture or research while at home, and then collaborate with teachers and peers in-person to put those lessons in action.

Four days of in-person learning

All other schools will start with four days of in-person instruction and one day of remote learning. Students are organized into cohorts to reduce interactions. Teachers will use the one day when students are remote for collaborative lesson planning. Community partners are also organizing “fifth-day care and activities” for families.

A push to keep local kids in local schools

Superintendent Philip Qualman also asked parents considering temporary alternate options to public school to keep their students enrolled in their local schools.

“We understand that modified in-person learning is not a great option for many families, but ask that they keep their children enrolled in their neighborhood school,” said Qualman. “If you’ve organized a community group of children for a micro-school, please keep them enrolled and engaged with the remote learning options at their regular school.”

Schools are funded based on enrollment as of Oct. 1. With the budget cuts from the state due to COVID-19, even temporary reductions in enrollment may result in staffing cuts. When conditions normalize, the district may not have adequate staff for returning students.

“We hope parents understand that this remains a temporary issue and are careful not to make temporary decisions that have long term consequences,” Qualman explained. “As a district, we’ve prioritized the recruitment and training of the best possible educators and we need the community’s help in keeping them here.”

Citing the state’s TABOR and the Gallagher amendments, which affect tax and spending issues in the state, the release mentions how the school district was still recovering from cuts in funding from the 2008 recession when the pandemic hit, and how declining enrollment, even on a temporary basis (due to the October count), compounds the loss.

“Give us a chance with modified in-person instruction. It’s our best chance to keep the teachers for when we get back to normal,” Qualman wrote.

—Vail Daily writer Scott Miller contributed to this report


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