Colorado governor extends school shutdown as child care becomes a growing concern
FRISCO — Schools in Summit County are making adjustments in the wake of widespread closures due to the new coronavirus.
The Peak School and Summit School District closed their doors to students March 16 as a preventative measure to help encourage social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both The Peak School and the district were scheduled to open back up for in-person classes April 6, but Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order Wednesday that closes schools across the state through April 17.
In the meantime, educators have been making changes to help mitigate the impact to students and their communities.
“We’ve never done this, and I’ve been in education for more than 20 years,” said Travis Aldrich, head of The Peak School. “This is definitely uncharted territory.”
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The Summit School District announced Tuesday that it would continue to offer meal services to students while the shutdown continues. Boxed breakfasts and lunches will be available at Dillon Valley Elementary and Summit High School. Families can pick up their meals between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, but no meals will be handed out March 20 or March 23, according to the district.
The district has yet to announce publicly how academics will move forward until schools are reopened. In an email sent to parents Tuesday, the district asked that students be “ready to learn” by Wednesday. The email indicated that individual teachers would be in touch with students over email, Google Classroom or other online platforms.
Mikki Grebetz, the school district’s communications director, said the district is coordinating with and following the lead of the county but wasn’t able to provide any further details about school operations.
The Peak School has announced that students will begin transitioning to online learning until facilities reopen. Students will be asked to check in throughout the week online to take part in live classroom discussions, along with work that can be done independently.
“The main idea is that students would be checking in from Google Hangouts a minimum of once a week with each of their core classes,” Aldrich said. “That means they’ll have a live discussion and conversation with their teachers and classmates. … We’re also asking our student and families to check their emails and Google Classroom at the start of each day to see what assignments they have for the day. So it will be a mix of independent work, and what we’re calling ‘Gchecks.'”
Aldrich said the school held student meetings Friday to go over concerns about the closure and troubleshoot any issues that could arise during online learning, such as making sure all students’ technology needs were met. Teachers also had a lengthy meeting Monday to discuss new expectations for online learning. Teachers will be allowed to use the building to participate in streaming classes and other functions.
“All of the heads of independent schools around the country are all working together to share information,” Adrich said. “I was in contact with a head of school from Seattle through a blog post, where we’re trying to look ahead and see where they are to anticipate future developments. …
“The main goal for us is to make sure students understand we’re holding them to a high academic standard, while at the same time encouraging them to take breaks from technology whenever they can and spend some time doing some healthy outdoor activities.”
As schools work to address closures, county officials also are working to deal with a sudden surge in the demand for child care services. With gatherings of large groups discouraged and in-home day care providers full, child care has become one of the county’s harder issues to tackle.
Steve Lipsher, a Summit Fire & EMS spokesman and part of the county’s joint information efforts, noted that there were ongoing discussions about how to satisfy the need but no solutions have emerged so far.
“The dilemma is many working people with school-age or younger children had their kids in preschool or school, and that allowed them to work,” Lipsher said. “… So we knew this was going to happen last week. We knew it would mean a lot of people who work, even in emergency services, are having to make choices. Do you leave your children at home alone or not go to work to watch after them? Or do you do some sharing with your spouse on those duties, which means you’re not available for your regular work schedules?
“All these things we anticipated. What we don’t really have unfortunately is a good answer to that. … Everybody is finding themselves in this dilemma. The local commercial child care and day care centers are pretty much all closed. And that leaves the in-home providers. Most of them have their hands full already with between one and five kids, so they’re not able to absorb the numbers we’re talking about here. They’ve been kicking around ideas all over the place. Nothing has come to the forefront as to how we’re going to solve this problem.”
Gov. Jared Polis addressed the issue during a press conference Wednesday morning, announcing the establishment of an emergency child care system for essential workers.
Essential workers include health care providers like doctors and nurses, and all other hospital staff essential to maintaining the heath care system, including maintenance and janitorial workers. Also included are emergency service workers and staff members supporting critically at-risk populations, such as workers in mental health facilities and more. Visit COVIDChildCareColorado.com for more information.
“It is absolutely critical that at a time when we need our first responders and health care workers and support staff the most, that people aren’t forced to stay home simply because their kid doesn’t have a place to go during the day,” Polis said.
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