Largest COVID-19 outbreak in Garfield County forces Ross Montessori school online

A sign outside Ross Montessori School in Carbondale informs parents about distance learning on November 15.
Rich Allen / Freelance Post

A week before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Ross Montessori School in Carbondale closed earlier.

The largest COVID-19 outbreak reported in Garfield County since the start of the pandemic has led the K-8 charter school to switch to distance learning for the week, starting Monday.

According to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 46 students – nearly 15% of its workforce – and 10 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since October 11. According to data as of November 11, the 56 cumulative cases are the strongest individual outbreaks reported in Garfield County, surpassing 55 at the E. Dene Moore Care Center in Rifle in November 2020.

A letter sent to parents by the school showed 20 positive tests from students and six from staff in the past two weeks. As of Nov. 16, 10 students and one staff member were still in quarantine, according to the school.

The plan is for classes to resume in person on November 29, after the Thanksgiving break.

“I know the school is going to do everything operationally to try to be in person,” said Ross Montessori board chairman Paul Smith. “We are like everyone else in hoping that the wave of the delta variant passes and that our families who decide to have their children aged 5 to 11 vaccinated have the opportunity to do so with this two week break. “

No high school student tested positive for the Nov. 11 letter, but 10 of 11 elementary-level classes had at least one student tested positive.

The school does not mandate vaccinations for students or staff, but has put in place requirements for masks, cohort isolation and ventilation measures. He declined to offer specific vaccination rates, but said they were “high” in the letter to parents.

“Since our state does not require COVID vaccination for children, we only know if parents let us know,” said Ross Montessori school principal Sonya Hemmen. “They don’t have to tell us.”

In the letter of November 11, he rejected the idea of ​​hosting a vaccination clinic at the school. Two parents had requested an on-site vaccination clinic, which goes against the school’s philosophy, according to the letter.

“We have no interest in this vaccination program or any other,” reads the letter, signed by Hemmen and the board. “We want to assure you that it is not consistent with our role as a school and not as a health facility to prick students with needles.”

Ross Montessori is one of three local schools with an active outbreak as described by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in its most recent report.

Grand Valley High School in Parachute reported a total of 18 cases – including 17 students – after the first report on October 19. According to Garfield County Public Health, the Grand Valley outbreak was considered resolved on Monday. It was the second-largest outbreak in a county school, after Ross Montessori’s.

Active outbreaks are marked as resolved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment after 28 days with no new cases.

Cornerstone Christian School in Basalt reportedly had 17 cumulative cases as of November 10, including the death of a longtime staff member. The school faces an Eagle County public health order that controls how students and staff who test positive can become eligible to return to school.

Ross Montessori faces no public health orders and has voluntarily chosen to temporarily shut down, working closely with Garfield County Public Health once a staff member tested positive in late September, said school officials.

The school would have had enough healthy staff to stay open, but has followed requests from staff to move online “for more time to recover from illness,” the letter said. He took similar action the week before winter recess last year due to COVID-19 cases, Smith said.

The school has not set any benchmarks for returning in person and intends to resume classes normally after the break.

“In a Montessori school, we just can’t duplicate what happens in a classroom at home,” said Mandi Franz, education coach for Ross Montessori. “What we have in our classroom and what our teachers do on a regular basis and the communication that occurs between students and collaboration is just best done in person. “

Garfield County Public Health was keen to point out that travel during the Thanksgiving holiday could exacerbate a worsening trend in COVID-19 cases.

“Compared to that time a year ago when vaccines were just becoming a tool that we could use to reduce cases, we are almost back to that level with the number of cases,” said the spokesperson for the Garfield County Public Health, Carrie Godes. “This is an important time to remind the families who come together, the working parents, that this has an impact on your household. It impacts your school, your workplace, and your family.

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