Opinion | Susan Knopf: Back to school | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Susan Knopf: Back to school

Susan Knopf

Are the kids going back to school? Summit School District staff members say they’ve been hard at work devising “restart” scenarios since the shutdown in March.

On the district website, you can find the architecture of a plan. Summit Daily News reporter Libby Stanford did an awesome job explaining the options on the table. There have been surveys and four town halls and an open school board meeting to discuss the plans, which are expected to be finalized next week. They want public input.

Robyn Sutherland, principal at Upper Blue Elementary, told Tuesday town hall participants that everyone is “working together to make sure all students are safe and they are learning.”

For the record, it appears kids are going back to school. That could be online education, could be a hybrid, could be five full days on campus. School staff members said the plan is intended to be flexible and move fluidly between the three education options as the need arises.

There’s been a lot of wringing of hands among local moms and dads. Is it safe? Will my kids lose ground? Surveys representing a self-selected, non-representational slice of the community show 87% want kids back in classrooms.

School board President Kate Hudnut says the district’s decision will be “science and data driven.” The school board operates within guidelines established by the state: the governor, Colorado Department of Education, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Summit County Department of Health, and a host of other guiding agencies and organizations with interesting acronyms. 

The district has to operate within that guidance and do what’s best for all. There are myriad issues most of us never think about, like the ventilation system. Even if you isolate cohorts or pods of kids with little interaction, the virus might be carried along in the heating or cooling system. One teacher was concerned that the system should meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. I feel reasonably certain the system does meet OSHA standards for a school, but does it meet OSHA guidance for a potentially infectious environment?

Sports and activities have been rated low, medium and high risk depending on contact and risk of viral transmission. Football is high risk. Swimming is considered low risk. Singing is out. Singing is considered one of the most dangerous things you can do in a COVID-19 world. What about instruments?

At the town hall meeting, district staff said Summit County restart plans look a lot like other districts. Jefferson County, which is announcing in-person education five days per week, came up in the conversation.

Immediately, a Hall and Oates tune comes to mind, “I Can’t Go for That.” Then again, I’m in the high-risk demographic, so what do I know about moms, dads and kids chomping at the bit to get back to school?

All I can say is I’d rather my kids be stir-crazy at home, frustrated with online education, than be infected and passing COVID-19 to me and others who could die. A South Korean study reported in The New York Times says older kids get it and pass on COVID-19 just like adults.

Some folks think summer camps are the canary in the coal mine, a litmus test, determining whether in-person classes will work. Several camps around the country were shuttered when counselors and campers became infected with COVID-19.

Lake Dillon Theatre Co. Executive Director Josh Blanchard says they are crossing their fingers and taking every precaution at the Lake Dillon Theatre camp. So far, no one has been infected. They expect to serve more than 100 kids in the six-week program. Blanchard, who is running for Summit County commissioner, echoes what so many others are saying, “I just want to do what is in the best interest of our teachers and families.” He also adds, “Two weeks ago, I was looking forward to school starting. Now I’m not so sure.”

In a week, we’ll know what school will look like in Summit County in a COVID-19 world. Whatever the decision, expect it to change as this persistent virus continues to wreak havoc in our communities. At least the president is finally on board, encouraging masks. Maybe now we can all become “science and data driven.”

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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