During a weekly Zoom meeting with parents Monday, Buena Vista school district superintendent Lisa Yates went further into the district’s plan to reopen schools to in-person learning when the new semester begins Aug. 27.

Yates first addressed a “news report that I understand caused some lively conversation on social media,” about a pilot program the district took part in over the summer that would have tracked the movement of students through school facilities via bluetooth-equipped cards each student would carry.

“The whole pilot was based on two things: One, it was a local developer that we wanted to provide a space for them to try out their new product, and second, from the beginning we have felt this urgency and strong commitment to return to in-person learning,” Yates said, “so, a willingness to explore whatever that might be. If we were able to demonstrate that we were able to keep distances in what would typically be high traffic areas, then we wanted data to be able to show that.”

Ultimately, “the product didn’t meet what even they wanted it to do. From the beginning, the district didn’t have a strong belief in what it would be able to provide,” Yates said.

Channel 7 News in Denver published a story late last month on its website thedenverchannel.com about BVSD’s experiment with Open, a system developed by Wolk.com that would have used bluetooth-enabled cards carried by students to track their movements through various gateways installed around the school.

Yates stressed that the district did not share any student data with the third-party developer.

As to opening the schools, Yates also discussed the protocols the district would be using if students get sick, whether students would need to wear masks in the fall, as well as student quarantines.

On students getting sick (including run of the mill maladies like upset stomachs and runny noses), Yates said that she would leave it up to the district’s medical staff, who know student histories and who the frequent fliers to the nurse’s office are, to make determinations about whether students showing signs of illness should seek additional medical screening.

“If someone has a runny nose, we’re going to react stronger than we have in the past, but we might also know that this student has documented allergies and the parents and the nurse are already in strong conversation about that,” she said. “Our school nurses are trained, and if they believe the condition is such that the best course of action is to let the parent know, ‘Look, this is happening, you can send them home and they’re welcome to come back to school if the symptoms are gone tomorrow, but I’m not recommending that they get an additional medical screening.’”

Yates said that the district’s plan for reopening was in line with guidance the Colorado Department of Education released Monday. She noted that an executive order requiring all people 11 years or older to wear masks is set to expire on Aug. 16, before school starts, but if it is extended, “we would of course follow that order.

“When the educational process needs your face to be exposed, when that conversation needs to happen and you need to see the whole face, we would pull them down,” she said. “In the CDE guidance, it is describing it in a similar way, that if it impedes the educational process significantly, then you make those judgements. And in that case, you use some of these other risk-reduction factors to limit the transmission.”

Yates said that the county public health department deemed the county’s COVID-19 situation as stable because all new cases were reported in the sequestered space of the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, and that, assuming the situation remains stable, school would begin in the Green phase of the district’s action plan.

That’s the stage of least alarm over spread of the virus, and the one that allows students to go about school in the most normal way. 

Even in the green phase, however, remote learning days are built into the schedule to allow the student body to self-quarantine for a period of 1-3 days in response to a potential outbreak.

“I know, as we all begin to try and figure out why we would have a remote learning day, it could become this sense of ‘Well, we’re going to be in and out all the time. We’ll be in school 1 day, then be home for 3 days.’ And that feels terrible for everyone. For students, for staff, for families. It means that you couldn’t plan,” Yates said.

She pledged that families wouldn’t see that kind of unpredictable schedule in the coming semester.

“I want to emphasize that the remote learning days are built into that green level so that we can operate at that green level and still be able to shift if there’re cases or if we have a significant number of people quarantined,” she said. “If that happens time and again, that’s an indication that we need to just shift to remote for a while.”

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