With vaccine shots given to over 74% of staff, Summit schools weigh how to return more students to classrooms | SummitDaily.com

With vaccine shots given to over 74% of staff, Summit schools weigh how to return more students to classrooms

Centers for Disease Control reduces school distancing guideline to 3 feet

Summit High School is pictured March 18, 2021. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidelines to recommended the minimum required physical distance in classrooms go from 6 feet to 3 feet.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

A little more than a year after the Summit School District first went to at-home learning at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the district is gauging how soon more students will be able to return to more days learning in classrooms.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidelines to recommend the minimum required physical distance in classrooms shift from 6 feet to 3 feet. That theoretically means more students, and desks, are able to gather in classrooms. The CDC said the change can be safely implemented regardless of whether community COVID-19 transmission is low, moderate, substantial or high, though the federal agency kept the 6-foot recommendation in place for middle and high school students within communities with a high rate of transmission.

When asked what the CDC’s 3-foot update means for the Summit district, school spokeswoman Mikki Grebetz said in an email that the district “is committed to analyzing metrics and data, monitoring COVID-19 updates from public health experts and government officials and adjusting the (district’s) ’Return to Learn’ plan at regular intervals to be responsive to our continued evolving COVID landscape.”

Grebetz said the district board of education will receive the next “Return to Learn” update from Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. and district Chief Operations Officer Drew Adkins at Thursday’s school board meeting on March 25. At the board’s most recent meeting on March 11, Adkins and Smith shared much more detail on where the return to classroom learning situation stands.

Adkins described the district’s vaccine efforts as “a tremendous success.” As of March 8, 74% of classroom and in-building staff had at least one vaccine shot — higher than the county’s 70% of those 70 and older. Across the district’s nine school buildings, those rates ranged from a high of 93% of staff with a vaccine shot at Frisco Elementary School to a low of 70% at Summit Cove Elementary.

Adkins said the district prioritized physical and behavioral health workers first, with 46 doses administered in January followed by 134 doses on Feb. 13 for the district’s team supporting “special population” students. On Feb. 19, 76 doses were prioritized for educators working with “poverty and high-impact” students in Dillon Valley and Silverthorne, before nearly 150 doses went out to the general education staff on Feb. 27 and March 5. As of March 8, Adkins said 404 of 500 district staff were registered to be vaccinated while some early recipients of the first vaccine already had gotten their second shots. Adkins said the rest of the staff would receive their second shots between March 13 and April 2.

Adkins said the district has received questions from staff regarding when quarantines would be reduced for educators when a student in class tests positive. Adkins said with the vaccination rollout sometime between March 27 and April 16, teachers will no longer have to quarantine for two weeks. He added the district has 205 staff members participating in weekly BinaxNOW rapid testing, and district schools also have a stock of rapid tests for 5% of building population, specifically to test symptomatic staff and students. Adkins, however, cautioned the BinaxNOW tests aren’t molecular tests, which detect the virus’s genetic material and are considered the “gold standard” for COVID-19 testing.

Looking ahead with the county in the Colorado Department of Public Health’s level yellow, Adkins said schools will have an opportunity to apply for a variance to host outside events such as a graduation.

However, Adkins said the “first domino” to returning more children to in-person learning on more days is transportation. That’s because in level yellow — and even in level blue — the 50% capacity for buses remains, resulting in just 39 students on each bus he explained. Adkins said the school has spoken to county public health about a transportation variance. He added the district is “getting creative” within the public health regulations to get more kids to school. That includes double laps for buses in Silverthorne as part of the district’s strategy of prioritizing getting the “neediest” students back in the classroom first.

“We need to acknowledge there are some students in our population that need this instruction, in-person learning, more than others,” said board director Tracey Carisch. “Let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist. Let’s address it head-on.”

Though the state health department recommends in-person learning in levels yellow, blue and green, Adkins said the district is looking at its own data for that decision. Adkins said the district’s own chart considers “blended” learning — some days in-person and some days remote at home — for levels red to green, though he added there are considerations for increased in-person days in blue and green. Adkins said district principals are planning for “what it might look like for increased days.” He added the district has supported following the 6-foot distancing guidance as of March 11.

Smith said the district is going to be looking at increasing more in-person days at the secondary level before the end of this school year “to bridge” to next school year.

“The ultimate goal, I can say for all of us, is to really look at how can we go back to five days in person based on the most current information we have at that time,” Smith said. “… it can possibly mirror what’s happening in the elementary with those four days in person.”

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