Bayfield School District Superintendent Kevin Aten and I agree that teachers believe kids learn best in person.
However, what was missing from Aten’s recent Bayfield School District board meeting declaration was a meaningful acknowledgement that BSD teachers value the health and safety of BSD staff members and students and their respective families at least as much as, if not more than, they value an ideal setting for K-12 learners. Sadly, these are not ideal times.
San Juan Basin Public Health, referring to the county’s new Level Red status, stated, “A decrease in case growth is urgently needed to prevent shortages at first responder agencies, health care facilities and critical infrastructure facilities that keep our society functioning. Reduction in growth rates will also promote a safe winter holiday season. Previous holidays have been associated with a spike in cases as people are in contact with family and friends outside their household, especially indoors.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s recently released report, “In-Person Learning in the Time of COVID-19,” states, “Most counties have seen a steep increase in incidence of the disease in the last several weeks. Cases are increasing quickly, with no signs of slowing or a plateau, and it’s likely this trend will continue.” In addition, the CDPHE report also notes, “As the semester progresses, outbreaks in schools have increased, with the largest increase occurring in early childhood settings.”
It is clearly evident that Aten’s directive to have BSD staff and students at Bayfield Middle School and Bayfield High School gather in person without the social-distancing benefits of a cohort model increases the imminent public health risk to staff members, students, their families and the Bayfield community at large. With a BMS staff-student body of about 300 and current infection rates, it is statistically possible that six infected people brought COVID-19 into the building after the recent Thanksgiving break. Consider that whole grade levels of middle schoolers currently eat lunch together maskless, with no social distancing, as current BSD plans allow.
Independent of my role as a BSD employee, I believe, as a Bayfield resident, taxpayer and voter, that Aten’s decision to not include additional safety protocols at BMS and BHS at this time is unsafe, irresponsible and short-sighted.
At the very least, BSD should exercise prudence in this matter and follow CDPHE’s recommendations: “Diligent adherence to the guidelines developed jointly by CDPHE and CDE will lower, but not eliminate, the risk of disease transmission in the school ... all schools should proactively adopt class schedules that limit the number of close contacts each individual has. Adoption of scheduling modalities such as block schedules, alternating in-person and remote scheduling, and small cohorts (including teachers, students and support staff) will be not only prudent, but necessary for any continuity of in-person learning to be possible.”
BSD ought to also give serious consideration to the safest solution, K-12 distance learning in the weeks between now and winter break. Personal responsibility is not enough. It only works when all are responsible, and the current countywide spike suggests that particular responsibility is in short supply in some parts of the region. Without a change in BSD’s current in-person plan, it is easy to imagine the virus spreading freely through the BSD community in the coming weeks, leaving many unlucky Bayfield families with COVID-19 for Christmas.
Tim Telep teaches computer technology skills at Bayfield Intermediate School.