About 125 Bayfield parents and teachers signed onto letters Wednesday opposing Bayfield School District’s plan to reopen for in-person instruction amid rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in La Plata County.
The district plans to bring all students back for in-person learning four days a week starting Monday, without using cohort groups to reduce viral spread or offering hybrid options to families. The district closed Nov. 10 because of viral cases or exposures in all four of its schools.
In the letters of opposition, one from staff members and one from parents, concerned signatories highlighted safety concerns about the plan.
“We urge the Bayfield School District to rethink its position on its reopening plan with student, staff and community safety at the forefront,” the parents’ letter said.
“All of us want nothing more than to be with our students and support them during this global health pandemic in the safest way possible,” the staff members’ letter said.
The school district’s reopening plan has been a source of tension in the community for weeks.
The Bayfield School District split students into cohorts and followed a hybrid model, splitting the week between in-person and remote learning for middle and high school students, from the start of the school year until mid-October.
Then, on Oct. 19, the school district went to in-person learning with remote lessons on Mondays, dropped student cohorts and allowed high school athletics and preapproved clubs. But Bayfield High School closed Nov. 6 because of positive COVID-19 cases.
Parents, administrators and teachers who support in-person instruction say remote learning can disproportionately impact students who have special needs, difficulties at home or poor internet access.
District surveys in August and October showed about 60% of staff members and parents approved of the district’s handling of the virus, said Superintendent Kevin Aten.
“This is the year that makes no one happy,” he said. “I’m really trying to thread a needle here and keep schools open. It’s very difficult, and not everyone’s going to agree. I honor that, and I get it.”
Concerned parents said the plan was approved when the county’s outbreak was less severe than it has been since the month began.
From Nov. 1, the county has recorded 850 new cases, more than all cases combined from March 23 through Oct. 31. As of Thursday, the county reported 1,290 COVID-19 cases.
La Plata County began to implement stricter public health restrictions, Level Red, on Nov. 20 because of rising cases in the county.
The district school board announced Nov. 19 it would continue with in-person learning for all grade levels when the district reopens Monday.
San Juan Basin Public Health has not offered guidance to the school district specifically for Level Red. The Colorado guidance says the decision is up to the school district, but it recommends hybrid or remote education for high schools, and in-person, hybrid or remote learning for middle schools.
Bayfield school board President Mike Foutz and Aten have advocated for in-person learning out of concern for declining student performance and social-emotional well-being. They also prioritized continuing sports.
The letter from parents asks the school board to vote on the reopening procedures. The board did not vote on the reopening procedures during the Nov. 19 special meeting. About 60 people signed the letter.
It also recommended hybrid or remote learning for high school, in-person learning for the elementary schools and cohorting for all grade levels. It asked the district to seek more public opinion.
“We feel that you are sacrificing the lower schools for a few short weeks of sports at the upper schools,” the parent letter said. “We realize these are unprecedented times and there are no easy answers.”
Staff members also asked administrators to seek more input from stakeholders, consider hybrid and/or remote learning for middle and high school students, use smaller cohorts at all levels and require masks for kindergarten through 12th grade students.
More than 50 staff members signed the letter with 12 additional anonymous signatures.
“We feel that reopening under the current model poses undue health risks to students, staff and the Bayfield community as a whole,” the staff members’ letter said.