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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Superintendent on D 49 COVID-19 protocols

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 ìGazetteî Sept 22 article by Breeanna Jent, ìEl Paso County Public Health Communicable Disease Program Manager Haley Zachary Ö (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 ì358 active cases among local schools.îThe article also stated that most cases are occurring in facilities where people are not wearing masks or physically distancing. Also, from the article, ìHarrison School District 2 Superintendent Dr. Wendy Birhanzel said since her district implemented a mask mandate Sept. 7 for all students, staff, parents and visitors, theyíve seen a drastic decrease in the number of people sent home to quarantine because they were exposed to the virus.îPeter Hilts, superintendent of School District 49, discussed the COVID-19 protocols in the Falcon area district.ìOur 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.î He said one of their strategies to limit large-scale extended quarantines is to have short-term closures as needed.ìWeíre 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,î Hilts said. ìWe donít stop education, we pause in-person interaction during the closures,î 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 Ö 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.î However, ìThe Gazetteî 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 doesnít mean theyíre healthy, he said. ìD 49 is trying to respond to infectious disease generally, instead of over focusing on COVID-19 specifically,î Hilts said.ìWhere we have missed the mark is because weíve had sick people come to school and where we have met expectations, is because sick people have stayed home,î 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,î said Cathy Cordova Tessin, D 49 parent. ìYou 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.îCody Banegas, parent, said, ìItís 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.îHilts said the district expects to have more small scale, short-term closures because that is their mitigation strategy. ìOur ultimate priority right now is to preserve in-person learning; we have been clear about that from the beginning and Iím encouraged at our ability to preserve the highest number of in-person education days as possible,î he said.

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