Walking a hallway

Student Estefania Lopez Vargas walks a hallway at Lake County High School. The high school closed last week due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school community.

For the rest of the academic semester, Lake County School District will continue to utilize a reduced-attendance model, a new approach to education required by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At a Lake County School District (LCSD) Board of Education meeting on Sept. 22, the board elected to continue the district’s hybrid model in which students across grade levels attend in-person classes on alternating days in fixed groups. Students enrolled in the district’s virtual learning option will continue with their same schedule. 

The district will operate under the hybrid model until December unless pandemic conditions require stricter protocols, LCSD Superintendent Bethany Massey said. 

The alternating schedule and virtual option have allowed for fewer students in classes at a time, creating space for social distance of at least six feet between students. The continued use of cohorts also allows for contact tracing within, and quarantine of, groups if there are suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

Such a schedule has led to the creation of programming for students on the days they are not in class — LCSD’s “Second Day Supports Program.” 

At the beginning of the school year, LCSD used CARES Act funding to enter into an agreement with the 100 Elk Outdoor Center, an outdoor education program in Buena Vista. The district has been bussing kindergarten through sixth grade students to the center for outdoor experiences on their out-of-class days ever since. 

As part of the decision to keep the alternating-day schedule, LCSD extended its agreement with the 100 Elk Outdoor Center for two weeks beyond the original contract. Programming will continue at the center until Oct. 8, at which point the district will focus its efforts on providing second-day support to students at LCSD facilities, Massey said. 

In an attempt to continue and localize second-day support programming, the district will shift resources previously designated for Friday programming and after-school Project Dream programs to increase the district’s ability to host students on alternating days. LCSD plans to increase support staff and use the district’s buildings to offer in-person activities, Massey told the Herald

At least one room in the Pitts Elementary School building will be renovated to support this programming, and a classroom at the Lake County Intermediate School (LCIS) has been altered for use as second-day support programming space. 

Lake County High School (LCHS) students will have access to virtual tutoring at Colorado Mountain College, and Friday in-person school opportunities will be offered for seventh through twelfth grade students beginning Oct. 2. 

The continuation of the yellow model will not change programming much for students enrolled in exclusively online programming, which about 20% of LCSD students have opted for this semester, Massey said.

As the semester continues, should the district identify a COVID-19 infection within a school, it will identify the cohort the person or people are associated with and conduct contact tracing to assess the risk of exposure. The affected cohort will be required to quarantine.

This protocol was put into practice shortly after LCSD’s decision to maintain the current model.

On Sept. 22, following the board meeting wherein the district decided to maintain the current model, LCSD was alerted by Lake County Public Health Agency of two potential COVID-19 cases in the district.

In response, LCSD shifted LCHS into the red phase, which requires fully remote learning, and initiated its contact tracing protocols. 

Both cases were confirmed as positive on Thursday — one associated with a cohort in LCIS, the other with LCHS.

It was not made public if the positive cases are in students or faculty, though the cohorts affected, faculty and students alike, have been instructed to quarantine, Massey said.

LCSD plans to resume in-person attendance at the high school and intermediate school on Oct. 2.

For the rest of the semester, the district will continue to monitor the state of the pandemic in the county and act accordingly, Massey said.

Though nothing can be said with certainty, LCSD is planning for a spring semester less impacted by COVID-19 while maintaining current public health procedures.

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