The Bayfield School District released a draft of its reopening plan for the first time Wednesday, a day after a school board meeting that drew 100 people and comments from almost 20 concerned parents and staff members.
The draft includes two learning options for students, online or in-person, during the coronavirus pandemic. The school board also considered a delayed start for in-person learning. Teachers called for more options than just in-person teaching and asked about sick days and safety provisions. Community members wanted to know plans for students with special needs and mask requirements.
The district released its plan with a survey attached Wednesday to gather public comment before finalizing it.
“We’d like options for staff and students to return ... so no teacher and no family or student has to leave a district they call home and love,” said Madeline Shea, a primary school teacher.
Bayfield released its draft plan after Durango and Ignacio school districts. Durango offers three learning models, in-person, remote-only and a mixture of the two. Ignacio asked parents to choose between in-person and online schooling.
The meeting setup was mostly virtual, another COVID-related adaptation. Teachers and parents spoke via a video-sharing platform. Board and staff members met in person, wearing masks and social distancing.
The Bayfield School Board discussed a one-week delay for in-person learning, starting Aug. 24. The board will vote on the idea Tuesday. Online learning would start as scheduled Aug. 17.
Parents share concernsDuring the public comment period, some parents were concerned about mask requirements in schools. They asked about medical exemptions, provisions for children with special needs and challenges with online education.
“I need my child who is going into second grade to be educated properly,” said Janelle Farnam, a single-parent who works full time. “Early childhood education is vital to our future.”
Under Colorado’s mandatory face-covering law, people, ages 11 and older, are required to wear masks in public and private indoor settings. Some exceptions apply, including for people who are medically intolerant of masks.
“People said, for very good reasons, we don’t think we should wear masks. The governor’s executive order settled that issue,” said Kevin Aten in an interview Wednesday. “Would we turn a high school student away if we didn’t have a mask in the morning? The answer is yes.”
In Bayfield schools, face coverings are required for staff members and older students. Occasionally, district leaders at Tuesday’s board meeting would remove their masks when speaking, contrary to their instructions for the district.
Masks are optional for kindergarten through fifth grade. While that might be a relief to some parents, primary school teachers expressed concerns, saying their classrooms were like “germ factories.”
“These classrooms are petri dishes,” said Anthony Maestes, a parent. “My son, when he was in kindergarten, I’m pretty sure my son puked on his teacher. Then he was crying on her shoulder. It’s gross, and that’s what kindergarten teachers have to deal with.”
Teachers want optionsTeachers wanted more information about safety measures, small-group on-site learning, sick days and options to teach from home.
“I plan on teaching here for 15 or 20 years. I don’t want to leave the district because I’m forced into a classroom,” said Aaron Wamsley, a second grade teacher.
Teachers will return for in-person learning only, Aten said. The school district is not considering changes to health, sick day or leave-of-absence policies. It has absorbed some insurance costs, given staff members a raise and provided 88 hours of paid leave – more than is federally required, he said.
“We’ve really done our part to support teachers, and we want them back in the classroom,” he said. “Our goal is to resume school and in-person learning as much as possible.”
The district will provide accommodations based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is not legally required to provide accommodations for staff members concerned about the health of someone else, like a family member.
“These are brutal, hard, adult choices,” Aten said. “The law is very clear. ... At some point, we all have to make those hard choices.”