Superintendent's Corner

Things are looking up

As students and staff come back from February break on Monday, Feb. 22, they do so with more welcoming news.

The community is on the verge of returning to the yellow, concerned phase on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. This means fewer restrictions for our community and better economic conditions for local businesses. In addition, it allows the school district to have spectators back in the stands at our athletic events. Through on-going meetings with public health, it has been determined safe to follow the yellow restrictions for indoor seated events for our athletics. This allows our venues to operate at 50% capacity or 150 people including athletes and coaches. Naturally, we must still follow the commitments to containment by practicing social distancing and face mask wearing.

For most of our sporting events, this capacity will allow those who wish to attend the opportunity to do so. For some high school events, interest might still outnumber the allotted seats. The school district will utilize the online ticketing system previously used in the fall to manage capacity. Parents of student athletes will have priority for the available spots. Details will be emailed to parents and available on our website. While this is still a compromise, we are grateful that parents and fans will be on hand to cheer on our student players.

We will also be welcoming back many students who were out on quarantine or remote learning prior to the break. We were experiencing an uptick in transitions to remote learning due to positive student cases and corresponding student quarantines. As the community returns to the yellow phase, incident rates have declined from the 600-800 range to under 300 per 100,000. Thank you to everyone for practicing these commitments to containment to achieve this reduction. We are hopeful that combined with vaccinations we will remain in the yellow for the duration of the school year. This would likely mean fewer student positive cases and a reduced likelihood of transitioning to remote learning by cohort or grade level.

With the arrival of vaccines and now the transition back to yellow, many parents are wondering if we could return to five days a week of instruction at the high school level. The school district is anxious to return to five days of instruction as soon as it safe to do so. We have to temper our decision based on health and safety requirements designed to minimize transmission of the virus among staff and students. Having staff vaccinated significantly reduces the need to transition to remote learning based on staff absences. Our focus will remain on managing transmission amongst students.

One of the primary safety measures in place is social distancing among our students. This is achieved at the high school level via the hybrid schedule where students have two days a week of in person instruction and two days a week of remote learning with only 500 students (or half) on campus at a time. With diligent mask wearing this has kept our student body mostly healthy. Student and staff positive cases, though relatively low, have still been very concerning and disruptive. The district must plan for and continue to be committed to the health and safety of our students and staff members.

We anticipate remaining in the current modified, in person mode of instruction through the end of this school year. But I want to assure you, that we continue to work with public health, as well as our staff and parents, to see if an opportunity for more in person instruction becomes possible. For our seniors, we are also working toward providing the least restrictive end of year activities possible. While we don’t have the details worked out just yet, transitioning to yellow and completing vaccinations are reason for optimism.

In early March we will be sending a quick survey to parents, students and staff to collect your input on whether or not to keep a few innovations from the pandemic moving forward. The survey will also be on our website and social media for community participation.

Upon our return, let’s all remain committed to the practices that have gotten us to this point. For students and families and our staff members, that means being extra careful when interacting with others outside of school. Wear your mask, limit the number of households coming together, avoid large gatherings when possible and practice social distancing until the pandemic ends. We are so grateful for the ways in which our community has worked together an with us for the benefit of our students.


Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net.