County, town expected to split bill for remote learning equipment for schools

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

A request from the Archuleta School District for the town and county to split the cost of remote learning equipment is expected to be granted in the upcoming weeks.

On Tuesday, Archuleta School District Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza presented the request to the Archuleta County commissioners at their work session.

Her written request that was shared via Zoom at the meeting states: “This year we are anticipating a significant amount of our calendar to be influenced by a blended/hybrid model of education. With the Safer at Home guidance, even the new levels would call for our district to look at a hybrid of in-person and remote digital learning for part of each week. We also know that there is a high likelihood that we will face significant numbers of students and staff that have to be quarantined in order to keep others safe. We want to ensure that we do everything in our power to keep students connected to school and ensure that they continue to build their knowledge and skills, despite the physical environment they must learn within. We began looking at equipment that would support the ability for students learning at home to join into the classroom for whole class meetings, whole class instruction and discussions. The challenge is that when they are on zoom, they can hear the teacher if s/he is right next to the computer, but that really tethers the teacher to their laptop and makes it impossible for them to move about the classroom and interact with students as needed.

“Students who are remote also cannot hear the class discussion nor can they contribute to the discussion as they are only captured by the laptop screen. The Juno system will amplify the classroom where students in the classroom can actually interact and talk with those that are remote. The remote students can hear and interact in a way that promotes natural interaction between students and from student to teacher. This system works with our technology through a USB connection. With this equipment in our classrooms, even though students may have to be home to quarantine, they can still connect to our classrooms and continue learning.

“We have approximately 105 classrooms between our elementary, middle and high schools. Each device has been priced by Eric and Justin from Echo IT at $1118. So the total cost to fund all classrooms would be $117,390. We would like to ask that Archuleta County and The Town of Pagosa Springs partner with the school district and allocate some of the COVID resources to help invest in these tools for our students.”

According to the Juno product page, the product allows teachers to turn on their projector, video capture their lessons, and talk to the front office, all with the command of their voice. It also enhances sound quality for remote instruction.

In an email, Pagosa Springs Town Manager Andrea Phillips commented on if the town will grant the school district’s request.

“Yes, we plan to split the cost for the Juno systems with the County,” she wrote. “We are also helping the school district with some other items through CVRF [coronavirus relief funds]:

• “School supplies kits for individual students so that they aren’t sharing communal supply tubs; this helps reduce the spread of the virus on surfaces (about $2000)

• “Assistance with hot spot devices to check out to families on free and reduced lunch to get internet at home for distance learning (about $7,500)

“Back to School Planner that came out in the Sun and was mailed to all families last week; this provided info on distance learning protocols and COVID-response ($8,000)

“We are also rolling out a program to reimburse businesses and non profits up to $7500 each for costs related to [COVID] response and social distancing measures. All funds must be spent in accordance with CVRF (CARES Act) rules,” wrote Phillips.

Asked if the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) would approve the proposal put forth by the school district, Archuleta County Administrator Scott Wall wrote in an email to The SUN: “I think the BoCC likes the proposal.”

This story was posted on September 14, 2020.