By Dave Taylor
After multiple well-attended school board meetings where the public heard about the district’s plan to follow the state’s metrics and discontinue in-person classes upon reaching a “red” virus level, the board voted last Thursday to instead scrap part of that plan and largely ignore the consequences of going red.
After starting the school year in August with all students learning virtually from home, the board voted about a month ago to begin in-person classes with students split into two groups, A and B, where they’d alternate days. Following the state’s seven-day rolling average for each county that set levels from green, where all students could return to in-person classes, up to red where all students would be required to go virtual, the school would use the A/B model unless the county reached red.
But as positive test numbers rise and the county approached red status, superintendent Kyle Estes began to think following the original plan might be more trouble than it was worth.
“Looking at what we have and going from what takes you from orange to red and how it can fluctuate back and forth between orange and red or a different color from day to day, that can become pretty inconsistent,” he said. “Looking at what looked good in theory that we approved versus the implementation of it and seeing that begin to play out, it became apparent to me that we need to err on the side of being consistent.”
Students began attending in-person classes on September 28, but with last week being fall break, there was a real possibility that they’d have to switch back to all virtual after just four class days.
“I felt like staying with the current model we had a pretty successful week and we needed to stay in that A/B model for the time being,” he said. “It creates greater consistency. Whether it’s consistency that you like or dislike, it’s still consistency, which is important right now.”
“I think it’s kind of like everything else with COVID-19, you evolve,” he said.
Although the schools only had four days the first week and one day this week at the time of the interview, Estes said there didn’t appear to be a reason to worry about virus spread so far.
“We don’t currently have evidence of transmission within the walls of our schools,” he said. “We have staff that are quarantined and we have students that are quarantined… but most if not all of those at this particular point have been situations that we have determined are believed to be events that took place outside of school.”
Students and staff will eventually turn up positive, he said, and whether the schools can continue in-person classes will depend on how well everyone maintains social distancing, which will reduce the impact of any positive case by only quarantining those directly affected by the individual who’s tested positive.
“We might draw all the way down to one classroom we put virtual and everybody else still goes in person,” he said. “Or one grade goes virtual and everybody else goes in person, or one whole school may go virtual and then the other three schools would still be on the A/B in-person rotation.”
The district is still using the state’s color coded map for athletic events, but whether that remains the case or other things change remains to be seen.
“There’s one thing that’s for certain and that’s uncertainty,” he said.