District 51 superintendent: “Our kids deserve some normalcy”

GRAND JUNCTION, CO – Superintendent Diana Sirko presented Mesa County Valley District 51’s general plans for the fall semester at this morning’s Mesa County Commissioners meeting. Dr. Sirko said that the “intention is to be in face to face instruction” by the time students return in August.

The district has been providing weekly updates to families notifying them of the latest news and announcements, and has been working with guidance from the Mesa County health department, Colorado Department of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Governor’s office, and the Colorado Department of Education. Dr. Sirko acknowledged that while remote learning was a “good substitute” during the spring lockdown, “[most students] do better with face to face instruction.”

Summer athletics and activities, which were rolled out using student cohorts, is serving as a practice run, so to speak, for the more complex logistics the regular school year will require. Dr. To minimizes transmission risks, the district has offered additional hand-washing stations, and require participating students to stay within their cohorts, which also makes contact tracing easier should a student or someone in their family fall ill.

In the fall, transportation will still be offered, but students will be required to wear masks. In school, however, elementary school students won’t be required to wear masks because of the difficulty of enforcement, but they will be monitored to ensure social distancing, per guidelines from the AAP.

Students will also see staggered bell schedules to minimize hallway interactions, and in the middle school, elective teachers will be moving from classroom to classroom, rather than having students going to them. Cafeterias will no longer have salad bars but will instead have packaged meals, and students will be seated appropriately distanced.

There is still some question about what fall athletic events look like, especially since many students travel to the Front Range frequently for competitions. “The season may be abbreviated,” Dr. Sirko said. Choir and band competitions may also be curtailed because of the heightened risk of those activities, but that “our kids deserve some normalcy.”

Dr. Sirko said that the district recently sent out surveys to parents, and about 70% said they want students to return to face-to-fact instruction, while 22% are undecided and are waiting to see the district’s plan of action. In response to a question from commission chairperson Scott McInnis about national teachers unions refusing to return to the classroom in the fall, Dr. Sirko said that their own teacher surveys show that about 30% are “frightened to return”. Because there are also some parents who aren’t sure if their kids will return, she hopes that “we can match the need on both sides,” but that if there is a high percentage of staff and faculty who don’t want to return, the district “will require documentation”, such as a doctor’s note, indicating why the person won’t be returning.

“If they’re just physically afraid of getting it and taking it home to their children, we will navigate each one of those.”

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