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"One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don't clean it up too quickly."
– Andy Rooney  
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  Volume No. 18 Issue No. 12 December 2021  

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  BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Leslie Sheley

   El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education held its monthly meeting Sept. 9, and began with recognizing the Fantastic 49 recipients.
  • Neveah Gutierrez, U.S. Air Force JROTC at Sand Creek High School, for being one of 600 students in the country to earn her pilot’s license this past summer.
  • Jessica Beilharz, Evans Elementary School Art teacher, for her Crafts Super Summer School Program.
  • Samantha Pellow, kindergarten teacher; and Lindsay Alguire, physical education teacher, both from Odyssey Elementary School, for launching the Walking Wednesday fitness program.
  • Vladislav Izboinikov, coordinator of special student projects with the iConnect Zone, who coached two athletes at the Tokyo Olympics; both of them brought home gold medals.

   Board update
   All members of the BOE were present at the regular meeting in September.
   
   John Graham, president, announced the board of education candidates for districts one, four and five; there are eight candidates running for three seats.
   
   Kevin Butcher, vice president, welcomed the student representatives back to the meetings.
   
   Dave Cruson, treasurer, announced two deaths within the district and gave his condolences.
   Ivy Liu, director, said on behalf of the board, they appreciate all communication from the community.
   
   Rick Van Wieren, secretary, expressed his appreciation of being able to attend the student representative reception.
   
   Graham reported on the Special Education Advisory Council meeting he attended in August. He welcomed and introduced the two student representatives present at the meeting, Delia Case and Ahmad Thomas, both seniors at Sand Creek High School. Graham went through the documents provided to the board members from the fall Colorado Association of School Board meeting, which included a copy of the book, “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story.”
   
   Chief officers’ update
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, showed a time lapse video of art students at Bennett Ranch Elementary School creating a painting on the blank construction wall, built to enable work on the addition while school is in session. Construction is scheduled to start February 2022.
   
   Brett Ridgeway, chief business officer, discussed Proposition 120, which reduces the residential and non-residential assessment rate. “This proposal would be destructive to the economy and to education in particular,” he said. “Property taxes are one of the best ways for school districts to get funding because it is a locally collected revenue versus state money.”
   
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, gave an update on the districts COVID-19 and infectious disease policies. He said their priority is to balance mental health, physical health and academic achievement; they will continue to evaluate not only the medical side, but the political side as they go forward. They continue to work closely with the El Paso County Public Health Department.
   
   Open forum
   Jim Robertson, parent, questioned the need for establishment of the new Cultural Leadership Advisory Council, formerly ELAC. “Is there any hard evidence that we are having significant issues with equality in the district? Are all educational opportunities, athletics and extracurricular activities available to all children within the district,” he said. “We have equity of opportunity here in the district and this committee is starting to smell like Critical Race Theory, which the board already voted to ban.”
   
   Karen Leonhardt, D 49 teacher, agreed with having a CLAC council. “In our school, we talk a lot about teaching students to disagree appropriately and to calmly have discussions when they disagree,” she said. “There is real value in saying there are all different kinds of people in our community, and they all deserve to have a voice even if we disagree.”
   
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • New job description for teacher on special assignment, Zone Community Liaison
  • Graduation dates and times
  • Sept. 17 as National Constitution Day
  • A supplemental budget increase for Fund 21 - Nutrition
  • The board directed the chief officers to present a special education strategic objective at the annual planning summit
  • Proposed revisions to five policies
  • The construction and boundary changes for increasing middle school capacity, as briefed at the June 10 BOE meeting

   Discussion items
   Jack Pietraallo, director of transportation, reported that during the 2020-21 school year, on one day, in the state of Colorado, there were 949 stop arm violations. This means the bus had stopped, had its STOP arm out, and a vehicle continued to drive by the bus. He said during the 2019-20 school year, D 49 had 90 such events and 24 events in 2020-21. This year, bus drivers are allowed to use any information, including video footage on the buses, to present to the police force. Pietraallo said the goal for the accident rate per 100,000 miles is always zero; D 49 has been less than 1% the last three years; last year they were at .02%.
   
   Dr. Nancy Lemmond, executive director of Individualized Education, said they have not been able to fill, either through D 49 hiring or external contracting, the position for a teacher for the visually impaired. She said they are writing up a new job description for a special education paraeducator instead, which will give the support needed without impacting the general budget.
   Lemmond also reported on the need to change the schedule for the Individualized Education Compliance Assistant to a full year schedule (working overtime and summers) because of the current workload related to the expansion of special education and the Medicaid in Education programs. 
   
   Heather Mavel, coordinator of professional learning, presented an update on professional learning throughout the district, including the authorized charter schools.
   
   Andy Franko, iConnect Zone superintendent, provided the board with an update on student performance within iConnect Zone schools, including enrollment, updates related to the strategic priorities of the zone and strategic objectives of the board.
   
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Peakview Hall at the Creekside Success Center in Colorado Springs.
  
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  FHS, District 49 concludes investigation into misconduct

   Editor’s note: The following is D 49’s latest response to news reports related to an investigation of the Falcon High School football team. 
   
   Members of the FHS family, thank you for your messages and attention as we processed through the recent investigation into misconduct within the FHS football program. We have completed the district’s part of the investigation, and are ready to reset the season and move forward with team activities and competition. 
   
   Coach Josh Flores has agreed to complete the season as Interim Head Coach, and we are grateful for his leadership.
   
   Some students have received appropriate consequences for misconduct and are proceeding through our restorative process. While we will not discuss any of those cases specifically, our restorative approach is that students who accept consequences and seek restitution should rejoin the larger community in good standing. That path will look different for each individual and may not include reinstatement to the team or leadership roles. 
   
   Our team culture and safety also depends on player leadership that reflects the positive character of Falcon football. The revelation of hazing and harassment has reminded us that our system depends on individuals having the courage to care for each other, even when that care might create some personal discomfort or risk.
   
   Coach Flores and I will meet with the team on Monday to give our student-athletes definite closure to these incidents while also resetting expectations for the rest of the season. We will ask all athletes and their parents to recommit to behavioral expectations in the FHS athletic handbook.
   
   In closing, it bears repeating that the safety of students, families, and staff on our campuses is non-negotiable. We encourage all of our students and families to stay alert and report any suspicious activity. We thank you for your trust, understanding, and support in this matter. 
   
   Sincerely, 
   Darryl E. Bonds
   Principal, Falcon High School
  
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  Superintendent on D 49 COVID-19 protocols
  By Leslie Sheley

   El Paso County Colorado School District 49 started the 2021-22 school year Aug. 2. So far this year, Patriot High School and Vista Ridge High School have had short-term closures because of COVID-19.
   
   According to a “Gazette” Sept 22 article by Breeanna Jent, “El Paso County Public Health Communicable Disease Program Manager Haley Zachary … (stated) there were 459 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 32 confirmed outbreaks at local elementary, middle and high schools (as of Wednesday, Sept. 22). The previous week, the article stated the county had reported “358 active cases among local schools.”
   
   The article also stated that most cases are occurring in facilities where people are not wearing masks or physically distancing. Also, from the article, “Harrison School District 2 Superintendent Dr. Wendy Birhanzel said since her district implemented a mask mandate Sept. 7 for all students, staff, parents and visitors, they’ve seen a drastic decrease in the number of people sent home to quarantine because they were exposed to the virus.”
   
   Peter Hilts, superintendent of School District 49, discussed the COVID-19 protocols in the Falcon area district.
   
   “Our posture has been a moderate, middle-of-the-road path that has helped us manage a small number of outbreaks with very limited disruption to in-person learning.” He said one of their strategies to limit large-scale extended quarantines is to have short-term closures as needed.
   
   “We’re constantly evaluating and learning as we go, but the two closures seemed to handle the situation by reducing the probability of interaction, which is the point of a closure,” Hilts said. “We don’t stop education, we pause in-person interaction during the closures,” he said.
   
   Hilts said D 49 does not require masks; they are optional. They do not require vaccines or disclosure of vaccine status. They are sponsoring mobile vaccination clinics at all secondary schools (students need parental approval to receive the vaccination) and will do the same at elementary schools once they are approved for younger children.
   
   He said the El Paso County Public Health Department will be responsible for isolation or quarantine protocols for the district.
   
   District 49 does not require the release of COVID-19 test results.
   
   At the September D 49 Board of Education meeting, Hilts said every district has a different set of priorities; D 49's priorities are to balance mental and physical health and academic achievement. He said D 49 has more school age COVID-19 cases at this point than last year, but far fewer disruptions to in-person learning.
   
   Hilts had this to say about respiratory viruses. "There are five active respiratory viruses that are running through pediatric cases in Colorado: rhinovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus, and COVID." COVID is the fifth most prominent, but it's still significant and so they are still tracking it. "What we're seeing is infection without severe illness; let me be clear … the sky is not falling, certainly not on our students and not on our families," he said. "ICU beds are not overflowing, they are not turning people away. What we are seeing is we can accomplish recovery, with at home care in 99.8% of the cases.” However, “The Gazette” reported on Sept 21 that hospitals in the county are being challenged and procedures are being postponed and emergency rooms are overcrowded.
   
   They will not require disclosure of status regarding COVID-19 tests, he said. D 49 is aware of the other significant virulent diseases in the community not detected by the COVID-19 test; people may receive a negative result, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy, he said. “D 49 is trying to respond to infectious disease generally, instead of over focusing on COVID-19 specifically,” Hilts said.
   
   “Where we have missed the mark is because we’ve had sick people come to school and where we have met expectations, is because sick people have stayed home,” he said. The district expects, if an individual is directed by the health department into a true quarantine, to stay in their home and not go to public places, including school, he said.
   
   There are parents who agree and disagree with D 49 protocols, but two people agreed to speak with the NFH. "This district is beyond denial and is abusing their authority with political decisions at the expense of the students and staff,” said Cathy Cordova Tessin, D 49 parent. “You cannot announce it is working and call it a fact when our school was abruptly shut down for a week with no instruction and no fallback plan because of the district's failure to recognize the situation and address it accordingly.”
   
   Cody Banegas, parent, said, “It’s pretty brash of School District 49 to continue patting themselves on the back regarding their handling of the pandemic. Within a 20-day span, both of our children were diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning to in-person learning. I think the vast majority of parents are on board with the general statement that our kids learn better by being in school. Let's try and work together to keep them in the classrooms safely, as opposed to ignoring the blatantly obvious global pandemic and marching forward as if nothing is wrong. Do better. Your students are counting on you and you are continuing to fail them.”
   
   Hilts said the district expects to have more small scale, short-term closures because that is their mitigation strategy. “Our ultimate priority right now is to preserve in-person learning; we have been clear about that from the beginning and I’m encouraged at our ability to preserve the highest number of in-person education days as possible,” he said.
  
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