School Views: If the dial turns orange |

School Views: If the dial turns orange

Philip Qualman
Eagle County Schools

As local case counts continue to rise, many parents and staff members have asked the school district about our plans for instruction if the county goes into the “orange” or “red” sections of the statewide COVID-19 dial.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment describes the orange section as “Safer at Home, Level 3, High Risk.” In orange, more restrictive actions are needed, but the risk does not rise to the level of needing to “Stay at Home.” As a reminder, the conditions being monitored are the number of new cases, percent of positivity, and the status of hospitalization trends.

With great thanks to Eagle County Department of Public Health and Environment, Vail Health, and all local health care providers, we have been managing the presence of COVID-19 in our community even though we’re seeing an uptick at this point. There has been a tremendous testing effort across our county, and as a positive case is found with ties to one of our schools, we’ve been quick to complete contact tracing and identify those with the closest contact so they could quarantine and effectively preempt the spread.

So far, 16 positive cases have had a connection to a school. We’ve quarantined 471 students and staff members and transitioned another 31 to remote learning without quarantine orders. Public health officials have found no transmission from student-to-student or staff-to-student, or student-to-staff, which is great news.

Nevertheless, we’ve been working with a variety of partners, including our teachers, support staff, local and state public health departments on our plans should conditions worsen into the Orange: Level 3, High Risk zone. Collectively, our plan is to continue with our current modified in-person schedule as long as we can safely keep students and staff in school. If we transition to “orange” as a community, we may see an increase in sporadic transitions to remote learning at cohort, grade, or school levels in response to changes in particular school communities.

We believe our layers of protection and mitigation strategies are working. However, if cases and conditions continue as projected and we move into orange, the issue becomes one of staffing. As positive cases increase, the chances of having more staff out on precautionary quarantines also increase. We may have to transition a portion of students to remote learning because staff members have been directed to quarantine. Our goal remains: keep students safely in school as often as possible.

Our parent community has been outstanding this school year — thank you! Your patience, understanding, and collaboration have been a significant part of our collective success. We can’t predict how conditions will change as we move further into fall and winter, but want you to know we remain focused on safely teaching students in our current modified in-person manner for as long as possible, including if we slide into the orange section.

If conditions worsen beyond orange, we enter into a different phase, the “Stay at Home” red phase. In this stage, we will transition the entire district to remote learning until conditions stabilize and drop back into the “Safer at Home” phase and levels. In such a case, we will need to allow enough time to pass to ensure we can change back without fear of moving back and forth.

At this point, we have advised all staff to be prepared to transition to remote learning in case we move into orange and experience patchy transitions to remote learning. We ask our parent community to also be ready with a continued spirit of cooperation, patience, and working together so that we can continue learning together.

Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at

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