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Joy and fear: Return to in-person classes elicits varied reactions in St. Vrain Valley School District

“What I saw yesterday were very enthusiastic children, very happy teachers. Some teachers cried with happiness as if a small ray of sunshine had come into the school. It was a very beautiful experience.”
Students return to Blue Mountain Elementary School on Monday. (Photo by Macie May)

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The return to in-person classes Monday in St. Vrain Valley School District cheered many students and teachers, who see glimpses of normalcy in a district working to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But fears remain that as classroom doors swing open, children will contract and spread the virus even as administrators, teachers and parents work to keep fears at bay.

“It’s a lot of mixed emotions,” said Olivia Alvarez, a teacher at Timberline PK-8. “What I saw yesterday were very enthusiastic children, very happy teachers. Some teachers cried with happiness as if a small ray of sunshine had come into the school. It was a very beautiful experience.”

Alvarez, who serves as family liaison at the school, also knows families who have opted for digital learning because of fears that returning to school is not yet safe.

One family chose to enroll in the LaunchED program — the district’s online program with approximately 3,200 students enrolled — because two of the children’s grandparents are in intensive care battling COVID-19, Alvarez said. The mother was previously sick with the virus, she said. 

Alvarez, who has taught there for 25 years, said Timberline’s opening is a blessing for her. 

“For many, the safest place in the community right now is the school,” she said.

Students returned to St. Vrain schools Monday as part of a hybrid learning plan developed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

"It was really a positive and uplifting day, and great to see our students, teachers, and staff connecting both in-person and virtually. Attendance and energy were really high and our systems for safety were being implemented and carried out with great fidelity. I am really proud of everyone and thankful for the continued support of our community," Don Haddad, SVVSD Superintendent said in an email. 

District students will report to classrooms on a part-time basis during the week. They will be split into two groups, with one group attending in-person classes two days a week while another group attends classes on alternating days.

On the other two days of the week, students will attend classes remotely. On Fridays, they will finish assignments or consult with teachers either by remote or in-person appointments.

The district says all students must wear masks and maintain social distancing during the school day. Hand sanitizer stations have been placed in all schools, while newly hired custodians will do extra cleaning during and after the school day, according to the district.

The district started the school year fully remote to adhere to county and state health guidelines adopted in response to the pandemic. Superintendent Don Haddad in September announced that health data indicated the district could safely adopt the hybrid model.

A case of COVID-19 at Main Street School prompted several teachers to quarantine and teach remotely until Oct. 15, according to a letter sent to parents Sunday.

The letter stated that a “person” at the school had been diagnosed with the virus and that the building has undergone a “deep sanitization and cleaning.” 

The person diagnosed with COVID-19 is being kept at home until they are no longer infectious and the people who were in close contact with the person are instructed to stay home from school for 14 days after the exposure.

Ere Juarez, Longmont school readiness coordinator at ELPASO, said parents have mixed emotions about sending their children to brick-and-mortar classrooms. ELPASO, an acronym for Engaged Latino Parents Advancing Students Outcomes, is an organization committed to the Latino parent voice.

One parent, Juarez said, decided to enroll her children in online learning because she feared many young students will forget to wear their masks and infect others. 

Another mom said she struck a bargain with her son to ensure he will not spread the virus when he returns home from his school building, Juarez said.

“She spoke very seriously with her son,” she said. “They have an agreement that when he comes home from school, he will take off his clothes before going into the house, that’s the agreement.” 

Otherwise, Juarez said, “(the mother) is very scared and hopes and trusts that everything will be alright.” 

Another mother said she will stay home with her daughters over fears they will get sick at school and they will not get proper medical care if they contract the virus, Juarez said. 

Another fears her four children will be left behind academically if they do not attend school in person, she said.

“She does not want to feel guilty that her kids are behind because she cannot support them academically,” Juarez said. “She prefers to run the risk.”

Martin Martinez, co-chair of Parents Involved in Education, is a parent in SVVSD and has chosen to continue with digital learning because his parents are older with existing medical conditions and he does not want to put them at risk.

Martinez said some parents are relieved their children are going back to school.

“Parents’ stress levels are lowered a little bit because they told me they don’t have to be the teachers anymore,” Martinez said. “They don’t have to be in charge of their children’s education all day long. They can now focus on what they have to take care of at home.”

— Leader staff writer Silvia Solis contributed to this report. 

Update: A quote from Superintentent Don Haddad was added.