by Jaye Sudar
WALSENBURG — An emergency meeting was held by the Huerfano RE-1 school board on March 13 to discuss the Coronavirus outbreak. The board room was packed with concerned parents, staff, and community members.
Superintendent Mike Moore started by outlining the concerns, responsibilities, and plans that the district had been working on since the Coronavirus had first appeared in the U.S. At the in-service held Friday morning, he polled the staff on their thoughts and preparations for this situation. While there were no verified cases in the district at the moment, it was mentioned that it was only a matter of time until the first case appeared. He announced that 70 percent of those in attendance at the in-service were in favor of closing the schools.
Various members of the board and audience spoke of their concerns. Administrators stated their staffs were prepared to do either online classwork, or to hand out packets. The IT department stated they were ready to assist as well. In fact, several online education services have promised free log-ins and services for affected school districts. Further plans would be finalized and set into motion as needed. Information would be given out on the district’s websites and Facebook page.
Moore spoke of the various closures from major league sporting events to over 50 Colorado school districts closing for at least two weeks. He explained that with our multi-generational community, the chance of spreading the virus was much higher than if school was canceled. Plus, a number of staff members are also in the compromisable category, and therefore more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Concerns were brought up that students would not abide by the ‘stay home’ or ‘social distancing’ requests, worries about students not having food security, CMAS testing, attendance waivers, and lack of internet connections. Each of these issues were addressed by Moore or other board members.
During the meeting, it was announced that BOCES has closed down, which would mean no Special Education services, and that many families had already contacted the district to say that their students would not be in school next week. John Mall teacher Ross Hallihan spoke of the Spring Fire, and made the analogy that as a district, we need to make a fireline now, rather than waiting until it was too late.
Director Joel Shults stated that the discussions had been factual, and informational, instead of panic driven. Director Ruth Orr made the motion to close schools from March 16 until March 29. The board would reconvene on March 27 to reevaluate the coronovirus outbreak. If things are favorable, schools will be back in session on March 30. If not, the district will remain closed until April 6. The board voted to close the district schools. Walsenburg Mayor Brian Lalander appreciated this caveat as his concern was that schools might reopen before the epidemic was over.