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School Views: Keep it green

Philip Qualman
Eagle County Schools

The journey back to modified in-person instruction for Eagle County Schools was a difficult and ever-changing process. It required a Herculean effort on behalf of Eagle County School District employees, most of whom are also parents.

As a community, we went on lockdown to drive down the presence of COVID-19 and allow for students and staff to safely return to schools. Then, under the guidance of our partners at Eagle County Department of Public Health and Environment and state government, we were able to reduce restrictions and gradually work our way back toward a fairly open economy. 

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for us all. We thank everyone for sticking together as a community during this topsy-turvy time. As a district, we prepared for three general options and waited as long as possible to select the most appropriate reopening plan. We went from thinking modified in-person to thinking full-remote as the virus rebounded in the community. The community as a whole worked together to drive the prevalence down enough for us to start in the modified in-person plan. It was touch and go, but we collectively did it.

We have never been in-school during the pandemic, so these first few weeks are incredibly important in understanding how well we will be able to contain the virus with students and staff back together. It’s important to continue practicing all of the safety guidelines and honor the commitments to containment.

Our mistake and looking ahead

In our planning, we made a mistake related to the community moving into the green “comfortable” phase. We did not think the green phase would be achieved until social distancing and face-covering requirements were lifted. Frankly, we thought going green might not happen until a vaccine was available. Consequently, we drafted a plan that called for full in-person instruction in the green stage. We understand now that we must maintain vigilance in our modified in-person structure in order to keep the most students in school for as long as possible.  

We have been informed that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is working on a statewide matrix very similar to our local indicator. It is likely to have more than three categories and overlay the state categories of stay at home, safer at home, and protect our neighbors. As that is finalized and shared, we will adjust accordingly.

In the meantime, even though we are in the green, we are unable to return to full in-person instruction. Social distancing, face covering requirements, and the ongoing threat of the virus make that impossible. We will remain in the modified in-person model for the foreseeable future to give us the best shot of staying in school as long as possible. We’re sorry for missing the mark on that projection and ask for your understanding and grace.

That said, we are excited to be in the green zone and hope we will all continue to be vigilant to the commitments of containment and keep us here. The better shape our community is in, the safer it is for all students and staff members. We’ve worked hard to get here, and definitely want to stay green. Our expectation is that the longer we’re in green, the sooner we will be able to consider a full in-person process.

Even though we only have one week back under our belt, it was an exciting and important week. Students, staff, and parents were all mostly happy and enthusiastic. Let’s keep that energy up as we move into the next few weeks. This upcoming timeline will give us great insight into how we’ll manage in-person instruction in the pandemic.

Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Email him at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net.


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