Montrose County School District students might be back full time for in-person learning this school year, but that potential shift remains a heavily discussed topic among district leadership.
During the Oct. 13 regular board of education meeting, Superintendent Carrie Stephenson provided a status update to the school board on how the district is responding to the novel coronavirus and the current hybrid learning model.
At the secondary level, students are continuing to learn in an alternating hybrid model of one week of learning in-person and the next week distance learning through an online platform. Stephenson said staff are working to stay connected with students to avoid any learning gaps.
“Our staff is continually trying to just kind of lasso those kids in and engage them,” Stephenson said. “I know every school is working pretty hard on trying to make sure those kids are staying in touch with their teachers during their remote week.”
Students have returned to learning for almost two months and now the district is having in-depth conversations about the potential of welcoming students back into the classrooms full time. As the district leadership explore that possibility, Stephenson informed the board about the factors that weigh on the decision-making process.
“There are a lot of things that play in addition to local conditions, which seem to be somewhat steady right now,” she said. “As you know, we’ve had some rolling quarantines throughout the district.”
That includes a quarantine of six staff members and 36 students at Montrose High School Wednesday, following an individual testing positive for COVID-19.
For students enrolled in a secondary school at MCSD, Stephenson said the factors the district considers include cohort sizes, contact tracing effectiveness, staff impacts, effects on courses and impacts to families.
“We want to make sure all students are safe, but we also don’t want to quarantine more students than are necessary,” she said.
When the district transitions to a strictly in-person learning schedule, Stephenson acknowledged that the quarantine groups will be bigger because there will be more students in a building simultaneously. If and when another probable positive or positive COVID-19 case occurs, Stephenson said the number of students who must be quarantined for a 10-14 day period will be larger and it will take more district personnel working with the COVID-19 Response Team to maintain the contact tracing procedures currently in place.
“If it just takes more adults to keep that happening, we are absolutely ready to put that into practice,” Stephenson said to the board.
Understanding that quarantine groups will also include school staff, Stephenson acknowledged the limited number of substitute teachers who can fill those positions. With the cohort system, substitute teachers are grouped within a building-specific substitute cohort, limiting the district’s ability to relocate substitutes to other schools as has occurred in previous school years.
“Any staffing shifts, we want to make sure they don’t have an impact on what students are learning over the quarter or semester,” she said.
Stephenson told the board they are exploring the possibility of a potential semester shift, which is dependent on local conditions and the staff the district has available.
“It’s a pretty complicated decision, but we are continuing to have it. I am hopeful that we won’t have this hybrid schedule all year, but don’t hold me to it.”
Stephenson added, “We all want our kids back full time. We want to make that decision as quickly, but as safely as possible.”
There was no specific timeline given for when a decision would be finalized about students returning to in-person learning full time.