Durango School District 9-R’s plan to return to in-person learning brings back the youngest students first and will be based on the state’s color-coded Dial Level framework that has five different levels of restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The state’s Dial Level framework moves from the lowest level, green, or protect your neighbors stage, through the highest level, purple, called extreme risk. La Plata County is currently in Level Red, the severe-risk level, the second highest level of concern.
9-R’s plan to return to in-person learning, released Wednesday, will gradually allow more in-person learning, beginning first with elementary students returning to school two days a week if the county as a whole is able lower its risk status to Level Orange.
“We really wanted to have transparency around what our actions would be in those different levels for our learning and our operations,” said Laura Galido, 9-R’s director of human resources.
Galido is leading the district as Superintendent Dan Snowberger takes emergency leave to deal with injuries his wife, Olga, suffered in a 10-vehicle crash Saturday.
As the county is able to move to lower color risk levels, the amount of in-person learning would gradually increase under 9-R’s plan.
“The younger the child gets, the more difficult to do instruction online,” Galido said. “We’ve prioritized our youngest students getting back into session first. And getting that in a sustainable place, with our middle schools and high schools to follow.”
The return to in-person learning plan was developed after talks with a district COVID-19 task force made up of teachers, counselors, administrators and other educators. Also playing a role in crafting the plan were Instructional Leadership Teams from each school, school principals, Durango Education Association, Durango Education Support Professionals Association and data from surveys.
“We really tried to balance all those lenses, and best capture the strongest consensus and compromise that we could achieve on this matter, knowing that there is such a vast array of thoughts and positions and perspectives about COVID-19,” she said. “It has been an ongoing conversation since October.”
Another key item in the plan is sustainability.
9-R wanted its return to in-person plan to be robust enough to weather daily or weekly spikes in transmissions among teachers, substitutes and administrators and still maintain in-person learning.
The state recently issued new guidance about quarantines that should limit the number of people required to quarantine. Galido said the new state quarantine guidance should help 9-R staffing shortages it saw during the pandemic.
“In November, our challenge was we were having instances where due to the definition of quarantines at the time, we had a high number of staff leaving for quarantine even if they weren’t symptomatic and had never tested positive,” she said.
9-R has obtained enough personal protective equipment to last the year. PPE is required by the state for use to raise the bar for when a person has to quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure.
“A lot of teachers and educators, administrators expressed concerns that they don’t want to have that yo-yo effect, going back and forth between different models,” Galido said. “It’s not good for the staff. It’s not good for the students. It’s not good for families.”
Also with sustainability in mind, 9-R’s return to in-person learning plan brings back students gradually.
For instance, when the state moves to the Level Orange, or the high-risk level, 9-R would begin in-person learning only with elementary students, and they would return for only two days a week of in-person learning and three days a week remote learning. Middle and high school students would remain fully in remote learning.
“Our feeling is that with two days a week in-person at an Orange Level, we can sustain the staffing necessary for in-person learning at the elementary level,” Galido said.
Under the plan, full five-day a week in-person learning for all students, elementary to high school, would not return until the county achieves Level Blue, or caution level, the second lowest level on the state’s Dial Level framework.
Galido said community adherence to public health measures will limit the spread of the virus and help 9-R bring students back to schools.
“I think our community does truly, in its heart, have a strong desire to pull together and implement the practices that we know help decrease transmission,” she said. “And that’s going to help us move to more in-person learning.”