The Ignacio School District has a plan for reopening in-person schooling, but staff members are concerned the district hasn’t taken their safety into consideration.
As the school year approaches, school districts have to weigh public health concerns with the developmental and educational needs of students. At an Ignacio school board meeting July 9, board members voted unanimously against a mandatory face-covering requirement for staff members and students – one topic of concern among teachers.
The motion stipulated that the district would change its policy if the state passed a mandatory face-covering law, which Gov. Jared Polis did Thursday. The mandatory mask order, which lasts until at least Aug. 15, applies to any indoor area, publicly or privately owned. Anyone older than 10 must wear nonmedical face coverings, but some groups are exempt, including those with hearing impairments or who cannot medically tolerate a face covering.
School officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
While the state order addressed one area of concern for school staff members, principals relayed other safety and logistical concerns expressed by teachers during the board meeting.
“Our teachers want to do the best they can for the kids,” said Barb Fjerstad, elementary school principal. “They’re also very worried that we’re going to throw them to the wolves, and we’re not taking their safety into consideration. What do we do if we have a teacher that gets sick and has to quarantine for two weeks?”
Dayna Talamante Montoya, middle school principal, agreed with Fjerstad, saying her staff was nervous about coming back and divided about the best way to do it. Fjerstad asked what the schools should do if a teacher has a health issue and does not feel comfortable coming to school, emphasizing challenges regarding replacing teachers and finding substitutes.
“They need to find a different source of employment,” said Yvonne Chapman, vice president of the board.
Chapman said if someone is uncomfortable performing his or her daily duties, the teacher could have an adapted role. Mainly, those conversations need to start happening soon, before the start of the school year, she said.
“If they’re not comfortable in their job and they need to seek a job elsewhere, is that the message we want to give?” said one principal, whose face was not visible in the online video of the meeting.
“I don’t know what answer to give you. We are taking all the procedures we can possibly come up with,” said Kara Pearson, board president. “We are just as in the dark as anybody else. Nobody knows.”
If teachers cannot conduct in-person lessons, the district would rely on its substitute pool. The board discussed incentivizing substitutes to seek positions in Ignacio. Board members suggested seeking Fort Lewis College students to help or having students join other districts’ online lessons.
The board initially passed an optional face-covering order, after staff expressed safety concerns. Board members said it was a personal choice and highlighted the needs of those who cannot medically tolerate face coverings.
Middle school teacher Anil Chopra attended the meeting in person to express support for a mandatory mask requirement.
“I know that I want school to be in session. But we need to make that as safe as possible – not only with safety but with the psychological and awareness piece of why we wear masks,” Chopra said. “We want it to be sustainable ... to make school happen through May (without outbreaks).”
The school district has implemented several measures to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Parents can choose in-person or online learning (the school district will not distribute lesson packets). The district is training teachers on digital instruction in case they cannot do in-person lessons.
It adapted school bus routes and seating arrangements. Lunch schedules, recess and athletics will have new systems to comply with public health guidelines. The board members even talked about shutting off water fountains, implementing daily sanitation processes and using disinfectant bombs in classrooms each night.
The priority, the district said, was to continue prioritizing high academic growth for students in a safe and supportive environment.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis story has been updated to reflect Gov. Jared Polis’ mask order that was issued Thursday.