What to expect this school year with COVID safety protocols.
In the Estes Park School District
Authors Note: This article was originally written and published on the Trail-Gazette’s website and in Wednesday’s paper.
The Estes Park School District (EPSD) is trying its best to return to a sense of normalcy while balancing the need for safety as the COVID pandemic marches into its second school year.
The day-to-day school experience will still look much different from the days before COVID, But little by little, they are getting back to looking a little more like they once did.
The Trail-Gazette had a chance to sit down and speak with Sheldon Rosenkrance, who is wearing multiple hats this year in his work in the district. Rosenkrance, the district superintendent, is now also serving as interim Principal for the high school.
Rosenkrance tells us that the most significant COVID protocol of the school year will be that everyone, students, staff, and parents, will all need to wear masks inside school district buildings. This mandate is regardless of vaccination status. However, activities and classes, which as many as possible are planned for being held outdoors this year, will be mask-free.
"Our goal is to do all of the mitigation work we can, so we can do things as normally as possible for the kids." ~Sheldon Rosenkrance
The district has a very high percentage of staff that is already vaccinated. Rosenkrance estimates it is very close to 90%.
There will not be any differences in safety protocols between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not been, except in one area mandated by the county, concerning quarantines associated with those exposed to COVID infection.
Actions after exposure will ultimately be determined on a case-by-case basis. However, if an exposure happens where both people are wearing masks and have been vaccinated, there would not be a quarantine that is required. But that changes if not everyone has been vaccinated or wearing masks.
Rosenkrance says, "That's why it is so important for everyone to wear masks. Because it can limit the number of kids (and staff) that will need to be quarantined, this is something that can be very disruptive to the educational process."
The county's case by case policy can be complex, "You know they aren't even writing it out, the case by case policy. We (as the school district) don't even have the directions. With so many different factors on quarantine protocols. We just try and follow the guidance (we do get) as best we can."
School bus protocols have been federally mandated this year, and the same distancing and masking protocols of last year will remain in place this school year.
While students' daily experience this year will look very similar to last year, there will be less cohorting. Cohorting is the grouping of students into small numbers that attend the same classes and take lunch together every day. The cohorting policies of last year were disruptive to how the district offered class choices to students and made it challenging to offer elective classes. So it has been done away with this school year.
All indoor sports participants and audience members will be required to wear masks at all events. This policy will extend to visiting teams and audiences when playing home games. The athletes will also be required to wear masks at indoor events outside the district, even if that district has a different policy than Estes Park's. So, depending on the situation, an opposing team may be unmasked while the Estes Park team will be required to mask up.
Plastic barriers will still be used in elementary school, but not in the upper classes.
There is also contingency planning in place, just in case of another lock-down and the district needs to return to online classes. This online experience will be the same as it was last year.
Across the nation, there has been growing resistance to school COVID safety mandates, resulting in demonstrations and even violence towards school staff.
This, so far, has not been the case in Estes Park. Rosenkrance has some concerns about the possibility of these types of things happening here. He says he has received some communications of concern regarding the policies of the district but nothing like what has been seen elsewhere.
In last night's educational board meeting, which was held online, over a dozen public comments were made, the vast majority in favor of the safety protocols.
It is hard to know if there will be more of a return to normalcy with traditional high school events such as homecoming or prom this year. Still, Rosenkrance tells us that "Our goal is to do all of the mitigation work we can, so we can do things as normally as possible for the kids."