Wishes for variance to COVID-19 quarantine protocols discussed at school board meeting

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Cheyenne Mountain School District 12’s Board of Education is eyeing the possibility of requesting a variance from the county that could allow the district to operate under modified COVID-19 quarantine guidance for in-person learning.

But variances are not allowed under the orange, red and purple levels of the state’s COVID-19 dial. El Paso County currently sits in level red, one step below a “stay at home” order.

“It’s actually pretty simple what we’re required to provide, if we’re just allowed to provide it,” one participant said of the information required by counties to obtain a variance. Participants did not identify themselves at the board meeting, which The Gazette attended virtually.

Quarantine protocols and contact-tracing requirements issued by the state and enforced by counties “make it nearly impossible to maintain any continuity of in-person learning, especially at the secondary level, where we can neither quarantine nor contact-trace at the classroom level,” Superintendent Walt Cooper said in a Nov. 19 email to parents.

“Many of you are aware from media reports that several area school districts have already announced plans for increased remote learning,” he wrote. “The absence of District 12 among these reports to date is no accident, as I have been reluctant to make decisions impacting our schools in absence of our local public health officials’ affirming that this is the appropriate strategy for our schools.”

He announced in the email that, after hearing from public health officials and medical professionals, elementary schools would resume in-person learning Monday, and remote learning would continue for most junior high and high school students.

All school-related sports and extracurricular activities would be suspended from the beginning of Thanksgiving break through the middle of January, he added.

The area’s major school districts — including Districts 20, 11 and 49 — shifted to remote learning in November for the remainder of the semester because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Other area districts have transitioned upper grades to remote learning for the time being.

As of Monday El Paso County had a COVID-19 incidence rate of 1,156 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period, and a positivity rate — the percentage of positive cases among those tested — of nearly 15%.