One week into the school year, the Mancos School District on Monday switched to mandatory online learning until Sept. 8 after a middle school student tested positive for COVID-19.
Superintendent Brian Hanson wrote in a letter to parents that students, and seventh and eighth grade teachers and staff members who had direct contact with the student who tested positive for COVID-19 are required to quarantine for 14 days.
In an interview with The Journal, Hanson said Montezuma County Public Health notified the school district of the COVID-19 case at 2:30 p.m. Monday, and the district decided to go to remote learning for all students for a week.
The health department requested contact information for every student, teacher and staff member who came into direct contact with the student Monday, the first day the student attended school.
Families with students who had direct contact will be notified by the health department, Hanson said, but the last-minute change to a week of online learning will give the school district “time to be certain of all direct contact that took place.”
Because the K-12 schools are on the same city block, students from all grade levels are at risk, according to guidelines provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Hanson said.
For example, an elementary school student who rode a bus with the middle school student with COVID-19 is a direct contact and would need to quarantine, he said.
Five middle school teachers and about 75 students are required to quarantine for 14 days, Hanson said.
Students will return to in-person learning Sept. 8, except for those who came into direct contact with the student. Quarantined teachers will check in with students from home by video calling into the classroom.
Schools will be disinfected during the closure.
The middle school and high school “flipped the switch” and went directly to online learning, Hanson said, but the transition has been more difficult for elementary school students.
“Our elementary school was just not ready,” Hanson said. Elementary school teachers will reach out to their students individually to coordinate remote learning.
John Marchino, secondary principal for Mancos School District Re-6, will reach out to families to find out how the school can support students who have limited access to the internet, Hanson said.
“We found imperfections in our plan, and we will learn from them and move forward,” he said. “When we have to go remote again, we can flip that switch, and our elementary school students can do that.”
The school district also is plotting internet capability on a map in Mancos to identify where students will need help.
“This whole situation is hard,” said Katie McClure, a parent in Mancos. “Everybody is under a lot of stress trying to make this work for their schools and their families.”
She chose remote learning for her children from the beginning of the year, so the closure does not affect her and her family. But McClure said the “disruption is real for families, and for working parents.”
Hanson wrote in the letter to parents that the school district’s measures follow guidance from the county health department to protect students, staff members and their families.
As of Tuesday, Montezuma County had 126 confirmed cases and five deaths related to COVID-19.
“I understand the inconvenience this will cause our families, and moving to remote learning for the next few days will allow us to come back to in-person learning on September 8th,” Hanson wrote.
The Dolores School District is less than a week into the new school year, and has not yet had any “issues of concern,” said Superintendent Lis Richard in an email. The district is “very pleased with the students’ and parents’ help in a safe start,” she said.
The Montezuma-Cortez School District started classes Aug. 24, a week later than planned. Superintendent Lori Haukeness said staff used the week to clean and plan for social distancing.
Teachers in Montezuma-Cortez schools are using outdoor spaces and tents for class more often, since research has found that COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors as the air dissipates respiratory droplets faster.
“There has not been an issue with students wearing masks,” Haukeness said, and the start to the year has been a “very positive one.”
Neither the Dolores nor the Montezuma-Cortez School District reported a positive case of COVID-19 as of Tuesday.
Haukeness said Montezuma-Cortez will continue to work with health professionals through the school district’s clinical committee to adjust the school’s approach to the year as needed.