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Bayfield High School COVID-19 outbreak will not deter in-person learning, superintendent says

District’s choice to open schools draws concerns
Bayfield High School will offer in-person learning in the new year, despite a recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

An outbreak of COVID-19 cases prompted Bayfield High School to close to in-person learning earlier than scheduled for winter break last week, but the school’s superintendent said in-person learning will go on as planned in the new year.

“Our plan is to go back,” said Bayfield School District Superintendent Kevin Aten.

An outbreak in a school is defined as two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases among students, teachers or staff members from separate households within 14 days in a single classroom or if there’s evidence of transmission in the school setting.

San Juan Basin Public Health confirmed an outbreak among two people at BHS, but said it’s hard to pin down an exact number of positive cases. The health department declined to say whether it was among students or staff members, citing privacy concerns.

“It’s hard to disentangle outbreak transmission and community transmission when the community transmission is so high,” said Brian Devine with SJBPH.

Tiffany Switzer, interim deputy director of operations for SJBPH, said, “We’re aware other positive people in the staff and students, but they have not been linked to the outbreak at this time.”

A letter was sent Dec. 16 informing parents the high school would go to remote learning last Thursday and Friday, two days before winter break. The outbreak was confirmed Tuesday.

“They did not wait for an outbreak to be confirmed,” Devine said. “They realized they could lower (transmission) by going remote, and they responded quickly.”

Bayfield School District’s decision to offer in-person learning has been controversial as cases in La Plata County have surged.

In November, about 125 Bayfield parents and teachers signed a letter opposing the school district’s plan to reopen for in-person instruction, a plan that did not include cohort groups or alternative options for families.

BHS had previously closed in early November after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Then, the entire school district went to remote learning Nov. 12 after a spike throughout the schools.

Aten said the school district was able to reopen successfully for the three weeks between Thanksgiving and the winter break, with 80% to 90% attendance. The high school and middle school did one day of remote learning Mondays, and the rest of the week in-person. The elementary school is in-person five days a week, in cohorts.

“We have staff members with concerns,” Aten said. “But as I always remind them, we are essential workers, and having schools open is essential to our families.”

Aten said the school district has worked with families and staff members who do not feel comfortable with in-person learning.

The entire school district, K-12, is required to wear masks, he said. Mondays, when students are at home, are used for a deep clean. Anyone with a sick family member is required to isolate. And everyone who enters the building has their temperature checked.

“We talk a lot to our community about personal responsibility,” Aten said. “They realize if we’re going to have in-person learning, there needs to be personal responsibility.”

Aten said teachers will return in-person for a work day Jan. 4, with in-person classes to resume the next day.

“That’s more than enough time for isolation,” he said.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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