School district to continue distance learning through end of school year

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis announced that Colorado will begin moving from a stay-at-home order to a safer-at-home phase Monday, April 27, but that Colorado schools will not reopen to in-person instruction this school year due to the risk of coronavirus.

For Archuleta School District (ASD), that means students will not return to the classroom this year, instead finishing the school year via distance learning.

It also means district staff are planning how to conduct Pagosa Springs High School’s (PSHS) graduation ceremony.

For Pagosa Peak Open School students, that means continuing distance learning at least until the school’s planned break that begins May 23.

ASD Superintendent Linda Reed sent a letter to students and families Monday following the governor’s announcement and a subsequent superintendents’ meeting with Polis.

“While the governor indicated there will be a gradual relaxation of some of the restrictions for businesses, in order to bring children back into a school environment, where social distancing would still be required, would create huge challenges and he and his advisors believe it would not make sense to try to do this. Thus, his decision to not return to in-person learning the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year,” Reed wrote.

Reed further explained students are expected to finish out the school year.

“That being said, I want to emphasize that we WILL continue to provide distance learning and expect all students to engage in this process, through the normal end of the school year, on Friday, May 29th. High school seniors who have completed their graduation requirements are finished on May 22nd. While I know this is not ideal, and may be creating extra burdens for families, I hope that the instruction, support, and guidance you are receiving from our teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators are helping you as you work with your children,” she wrote.

“I’ve heard from staff and, actually, quite a few of them have said thank you,” Reed told The SUN Wednesday of the announcement, noting it’s hard because everybody wants to be back with the kids, but some staff members have family members with compromised immune systems who were worried about returning and putting their families at risk. “It’s a double-edged sword, but I really do believe it’s the right thing.”

Reed explained she believes the governor has been thoughtful in his decision-making and she has appreciated the level of communication from the governor.

She explained that, during a call a couple weeks ago, Polis had warned educators there was a good chance in-person education would not be returning this school year, but that it was dependent upon the data.

“And so we knew it was coming, but everybody, I think, was holding on to this little thread of hope that maybe, just maybe, things would be good enough that we wouldn’t have to do that,” she said.

Reed indicated there are many kids who are vulnerable or who have family members who are vulnerable, also pointing out that kids can be carriers of the virus without knowing it.

“That’s the thing — you don’t know,” she said.

Reed explained more decisions will be coming, such as about how to have students retrieve belongings from school buildings and how to hold graduation.

“We don’t want to rush into decisions,” Reed said.

She noted that the district is working with San Juan Basin Public Health to determine how to hold a safe graduation ceremony of some sort.

“We don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy and we don’t want to cause problems for people, and we want to be respectful of the rules that are in place because they’re there for the safety of our community,” Reed said, adding later, “We’re trying to think of multiple different scenarios.”

Reed noted the district wants to do what’s safest and best for the kids while also honoring them.

“Lord knows they have had so many things taken away from them this spring,” she said, calling the state basketball tournament the “first domino to fall.”

At the ASD Board of Education meeting on April 14, Assistant Superintendent Laura Mijares outlined changes made at each school, as well as informing board members of the district’s efforts to provide meals.

At PSHS, Mijares explained, the grading policy was changed for the fourth quarter.

“The high school has worked to adopt a fair grading policy to finish out the 4th quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, which includes a pass/ fail grade. The new grading policy for 4th quarter provides an equitable opportunity for all students to continue learning,” the report states.

Reed further explained Wednesday that the change also takes some of the stress off teachers and students, with the goal being having the students engage.

At Pagosa Springs Middle School, Mijares’ report states, “Assignments continue to support standards based education, and the middle school has adopted a plan of allowing for an incomplete grade for 4th quarter only. The intention is to provide extra support in the fall to any student unable to meet all the requirements of the current grade.”

Mijares also told the board about the district’s ongoing efforts to provide meals to students and other children in the area, calling the effort “fantastic.”

“We have blown it out of the water,” she said, adding that kids are benefiting.

ASD is following the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for the summer feeding program, she explained, and, despite having a weakened supply chain, has provided an increasing number of meals to kids up to age 18.

“Monday through Friday meals are delivered by our school drivers in ASD buses or mini-buses on six different routes to about 40 stops. In addition, meals may be picked up at Pagosa Springs High School between 10 am and 1 pm,” her report states. “Sacked meals, comprised of items that make up breakfast and lunch, are bagged together and created by our dedicated Food Service Team. A typical sack meal contains a breakfast bread item, a juice, a sandwich, chips or a vegetable, milk (frozen or shelf stable), and a fruit.”

Mijares also detailed the numbers of meals ASD was distributing each week prior to the meeting.

The week of March 15 — the first week district students were participating in distance learning, the district delivered 707 meals over four days.

The week of March 22, which was the district’s spring break, ASD delivered 1,595 meals.

That number grew to 2,247 the week of March 29 and 2,304 by April 6.


This story was posted on April 23, 2020.