Some schools are ‘coming closer’ to going remote amid COVID-19 spike, staffing challenges – Community News
Covid-19

Some schools are ‘coming closer’ to going remote amid COVID-19 spike, staffing challenges

As Eagle County Schools prepares for a week-long Thanksgiving holiday, it faces increasing COVID-19 cases and quarantines among its staff and students.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

As Eagle County Schools prepares for a week-long Thanksgiving holiday, it faces increasing COVID-19 cases and quarantines among its staff and students.

“We are working very hard to keep schools open, but we have come close in some locations to switch to remote areas,” Chief Inspector Philip Qualman said at last week’s school board meeting. “We’ve had 12 weeks of school with that last resort that we haven’t had to entertain, but it’s getting closer and closer.”

According to the Eagle County coronavirus monitoring dashboard, there has been a recent spike in incidence rates for all school age groups that started around October 31.



“We think that has to do with some Halloween parties, festivities and activities,” Qualman said at the meeting. “We hope that peak starts to subside.”

However, in the week of November 7 – the most recent data on the dashboard – the numbers were still rising. The number of infections per 100,000 people on that date was 3.07 for children under 5 years old, 8.93 for children between 5 and 10 years, 9.3 for children between 11 and 13 years and 6.36 for young people between 14 and 14 years old. 17 years.



A screenshot from the Eagle County Community COVID-19 Monitoring dashboard shows the recent spike in incidence rates among all school age groups.
Courtesy photo

These increases follow a national and national trend of increasing COVID-19 cases. Eagle County as a whole has a one-week incidence of 345 cases per 100,000 and a two-week incidence of 674.2 cases per 100,000 as of Monday, Nov. 15.

According to the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was last updated on Nov. 11, has 38 students who have tested positive for the virus and 56 students in quarantine. On the same date, it counted 18 staff with positive cases and 21 staff in quarantine.

Staffing, in particular, is something that the neighborhood has struggled with throughout the year. Not only does it have to do with COVID-19-related absences – which can put staff out of work for 10 to 14 days – but it also has normal staff absences and vacations to navigate, a shortage of guest lecturers to fill those absences. and between 60 and 70 unfilled positions across the neighborhood.

The district is keeping a close eye on these numbers, as staff shortages are one of the main factors that could cause certain buildings to switch to distance learning. The close calls are “mainly staff-related,” said Matt Miano, the district’s chief communications officer.

“We want to make sure our personal experience is what it needs in the best interests of our students,” he said.

There is no specific threshold for when the district would switch a school to distance learning. Instead, it will “evaluate each situation independently,” Miano said.

So far, as Qualman points out, the district has managed to get students to learn personally, even during recent outbreaks. Outbreaks in schools are defined by the state of Colorado as five or more cases in one classroom.

In particular, Brush Creek Elementary and Eagle Valley Elementary have been dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks recently. As of November 11, Eagle Valley Elementary had 10 positive students and 13 students in quarantine, as well as three positive staff and three staff quarantines. Brush Creek had five positive students and six students in quarantine on the same date.

The result of these outbreaks was that certain classrooms moved to a “one-room schoolhouse” model, where students stay in person but don’t mingle with other classes during lunch and recess, Miano said.

With numbers rising, Miano said, most of the spread among students isn’t coming from classrooms, “but rather from homes and extracurricular events.”

For this reason, protocols — including mask requirements for pre-K through eighth grade, promoting frequent hand washing, and providing extra social distancing when practical — remain in effect without changes.

“Right now, we feel like our protocols are working as best they can,” Miano said. “We will re-evaluate if the need arises.”

Staff postponement

In terms of staffing, the district has received some reprieve in some of the largest emergency areas.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education approved funding to address staff shortages, including funds for a salary increase and a hiring bonus for visiting teachers, as it struggled to fill teacher absences with replacements.

So far it’s going well. Miano said the district has been able to hire 20 new guest lecturers, which could “increase our fill rate for absentee staff”.

However, there are still challenges in filling these gaps.

“We’ve had quite a few (guest lecturers) on rotation, but with these incident figures, they’re not just gone for a day or two; they are often out for ten days to two weeks,” Qualman said during the board meeting. “It’s quite a burden.”

It seems that the teacher leaders and district administration are also doing their best to fill absences, including the superintendent himself. Qualman said he’s been filling in for high schools in Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley in recent weeks, as well as one of the high schools.

One of the other areas of great need of the district was school nurses. At the beginning of October, there was only one of five nursing positions for the entire school district. Part of the board’s approval includes a salary increase and a hiring incentive for school nurses.

So far these have also proved somewhat successful; the district has hired two nurses.

“We’ve had some success hiring nurses, allowing delegations to pass for those students in need and also helping to provide our schools with health assistants and nurses,” Miano said. “We continue to strive to fill more of these roles, but are pleased with how everyone has worked together and helped keep our children safe at school.”

No vaccine mandates

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, Eagle County began offering vaccines to the community’s youngest population in early November.

While this approval could boost immunity for the community as a whole, Eagle County Schools has no plans to implement vaccine requirements, leaving those decisions up to families.

“The district would never condone, approve or approve vaccinating anyone without parental consent or knowledge,” Qualman said last week. “We have no plans to impose vaccination requirements.”

The district has also not and will not impose a vaccination requirement on any of its employees.

Now that these vaccines are available — as well as the availability of booster shots — Qualman expressed hope that the number of incidents would go the other way.

“With those pieces in place, hopefully we can boost our immunity and minimize spread so we can keep schools open,” he said.

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