EPSD Plans for In-Person Learning
September 16, 2020
In August, our schools made the tough decision to begin the 2020-2021 school year with remote learning via Cloud School 2.0 and to continue instruction in this manner through at least the first quarter. We made this choice based on several key indicators, including an increased number of local COVID-19 cases during the summer months, a lack of timely testing and tracing, and the large number of summer visitors to our community. Ultimately, we felt that it was safest for our students and staff to delay their return to in-person instruction.
Our administrators worked hard to develop and implement a district safety plan over the summer. This plan included having students return to school in cohorts, the consistent use of masks, appropriate social distancing, and taking additional steps to mitigate other risk factors. While we are confident in this plan and feel that it will allow both staff and students to attend school safely, the increased number of COVID-19 cases over the summer and the fact that test results were often delayed limited our ability to conduct effective contact tracing in our schools. Because of this, the Board and I felt that it was best to start instruction remotely. Our goal remains a return to in-person learning in early October if indicators are favorable to do so.
As we begin discussing a return to in-person learning, we feel the county health data indicates that it is now possible to safely begin this transition. Most notably, testing response time has improved greatly and Larimer County has done a great job limiting the spread of COVID-19. This is the primary data we have been tracking to help us with our decision making. The county has a COVID-19 Dashboard that monitors day to day indicators and tracks health metrics to help make decisions for the county and the state.
Some of the most important indicators that we have been using to guide our decision making include:
14-day Test Positivity Percentage: The state would like to see fewer than 5% of a county’s COVID-19 test come back positive. As of September 15th, Larimer County is at 2.4%.
Improved testing speed and contact tracing: Testing turnaround time has improved significantly and Larimer County has signed a contract with a private company to ensure 48-hour turnaround time on up to 1500 tests per day. Testing results were taking over 10 days in August, which made it difficult to contact trace properly. Our district also has a dedicated contact tracer who has been assisting us over the past several weeks and will continue in that role as we return to in-person learning.
Hospital utilization rates: Hospital capacity and utilization rates are also closely monitored and have been below the utilization indicators for several weeks. As of September 15th, Larimer County is at a 58% hospital utilization rate.
14-day Case Rate per 100,000 people: As of September 15th, Larimer County is at 67 cases per 100,000 people. Larimer County Department of Health and Environment would like to see this number drop below 50.
More information is available here: https://www.larimer.org/spotlights/2020/09/02/covid-19-testing-update
After reviewing these factors, the Board supports moving forward with the original plan to offer a return to in-person instruction by October 12th. We will continue to monitor county health data and make adjustments as needed. The administrative staff is currently reviewing the in-person learning plans and adjusting them in alignment with the new state guidelines. We are also utilizing feedback and lessons learned from other local districts.
The district is planning a “phase-in” period starting the week of September 28th to allow for small class cohorts in our buildings. This process will allow the district to start bringing groups of students back into buildings in a structured manner. This phase-in period is meant to ensure that the return to in-person learning is done in a safe way and to help students and families adjust to the new schedule and procedures. In-person learning will look different than it has in the past and we want to make sure staff, students, and families are prepared for this transition. More information on these plans will be communicated as they are developed. (Please note that this process will not impact students who are enrolled in the Estes Park Remote Learning Academy, the district’s full online educational model.)
As district administration and school staff work on in-person learning plans and the implementation of safety protocols on our campus, we will continue to work closely with our county health officials as they monitor the impact of the pandemic in our community. We ask for patience and grace as we navigate and update our in-person learning plans. Please remember that these plans are subject to change based on the presence of COVID-19 in our community. A rapid change in key health indicators could cause a sudden change in our plans as we work to keep everyone safe.
We encourage feedback from our staff, families, and community as we navigate this new, everchanging frontier in education. We are in this together and our main priority is to do what is best for our students and community. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns.