Students returned to school Monday amid uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
At Montezuma-Cortez High School, students wore masks and signed up for free laptop computers before entering the school.
Masks are required to be worn in the building but can be taken off outside. The district released a video explaining its new safety precautions.
“Mask wearing in the school will be enforced to keep students safe so we can allow the school year to continue,” said David Robinson, assistant principal and activities director at the high school.
Students were instructed to wash hands regularly, avoid touching their face and practice social distancing. They have been advised to stay home from school if they show symptoms of the coronavirus such as dry cough, fever and shallow breathing.
Temperature checks to detect a fever are to be conducted at home before leaving for school.
Testing for COVID-19 is available at the school-based clinic for Re-1 students, family and staff, with results in one to three days. Testing is done from the patient’s vehicle and costs $5.
A quarantine room has been set aside for students who exhibit symptoms of coronavirus. Parents are then notified, and the school nurse assesses the student for care and possible testing. The Colorado Department of Health and Environment has recorded 121 cases of COVID-19, and five deaths in Montezuma County.
There are 630 students enrolled at the high school, said Robinson. About a third are attending school online instead of in person.
Despite the realities of the pandemic, students and staff were upbeat Monday morning.
“I’m excited for the new experience and meeting new friends,” said Savahnah Haselroth, a freshman.
She considered signing up for the online instruction option because of concerns about the virus. But after going to orientation and learning of the precautions, she felt comfortable about attending classes in person.
“I’m looking forward to hanging out with my friends and having a good time at school,” said Joseph Ruiz, who is starting the 10th grade. “I’m not nervous about the virus; everyone is wearing masks.”
He prefers classroom learning over the online option because his internet service at home is not reliable.
“I learn better in a classroom. With online classes at home, there are too many distractions,” Ruiz said.
Parents expressed varying views of attending school during a pandemic.
“I have mixed feelings and am concerned about the virus. I worry that a lot of people are not taking it seriously,” said parent Jeanne Sanders.
After discussing the options with her freshman son, they felt the social interaction and structure of attending school in person was important.
“He is so thrilled about high school. I sent him off with two masks in case he loses one,” she said.
About 2,000 students were enrolled in Montezuma-Cortez schools, school officials said, with 1,300 students enrolled for in-person classes; and 650 for online classes.
“This additional week will be used to reevaluate district enrollment and staffing needs to provide our educational programming in-person and online, and to provide staff with additional planning time and support,” Superintendent Lori Haukeness said in a news release.
The first day of the school year was delayed a week because an unanticipated high number of students chose to pursue fully online learning through Colorado Digital Learning Solutions, both in Montezuma County and across the state.
More than 2,000 students in Colorado tried to enroll in CDLS before the original Aug. 17 start date, overwhelming the system.
The district contracted with CDLS, a state program, to facilitate online education for students in the district. The district elected a model that would allocate a teacher from CDLS to check in with its students with online discussion forums or video chat.
Haukeness said that if 322 students do not enroll for the new school year, the district would lose $749,864. If 166 students do not enroll, the district would lose $490,266.