Guffey Community Charter School

The entire school population fits on this staircase. (Photo courtesy Guffey Community Charter School)

Just as they were for the entirety of the 2020 fall semester, Park County schools will remain open to on-campus attendance for the upcoming spring semester, according to school officials within the Platte Canyon School District RE-1, Park County School District RE-2 and Guffey Community Charter School.

A spike in new COVID cases impacted schools and school districts across the state in November of 2020, forcing many of them to close their doors to on-campus attendance.

But in Park County, where online-learning has been offered as an alternative to in-person-learning since students returned from summer break, COVID cases have been kept at minimal levels and campuses have remained open to staff and students alike.

Most students within the Platte Canyon School District opted to attend classes in-person during the fall semester, as was the case with all Park County schools. And according to Platte Canyon School District Superintendent Mike Schmidt, even more students are opting for in-person over online learning for the spring semester.

“We are seeing more students trickle back in and opt for in-person learning this semester,” Schmidt said. “And we were fortunate that we were able to offer in-person learning throughout the fall semester.”

Guffey Community Charter School Principal Martine Walker expressed similar sentiments.

“We were very lucky to stay open for the fall semester, and I think the fact that we are small and somewhat isolated worked in our favor,” Walker said.

Relative isolation from urban sprawls, combined with the sparsely populated nature of Park County as a whole, has undoubtedly been beneficial in keeping students and staff healthy, and campuses open.

Another factor that has likely kept COVID outbreaks at bay in Park County schools has been a consistent commitment to mask-wearing and social distancing among administrators, staff and students.

“We were pretty firm about what our expectations were with regards to mask-wearing and social distancing when the school year began,” said Park County School District RE-2 Superintendent Cindy Bear. “We have also sent a few reminders to parents, and some students need to be reminded more often than others. But overall, I think we have done very well. We also have the ability to test students, staff, and even those in the community for COVID now, and that has been a positive development.”

Walker indicated that there was some degree of trepidation among teachers and staff at Guffey Community Charter School about students’ willingness to social distance and wear masks, but that she has been pleasantly surprised by the students’ willingness to cooperate and adapt to changes and challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.

“Before the school year began, many of us wondered if mask policing might become a new part of our job descriptions,” Walker said. “But the kids are amazingly adaptable, and I think they are just used to it now.”

All Park County schools were closed to in-person learning in March of 2020, and all remained closed until the fall. That five-month absence from campus apparently convinced many Park County students that going to school in person each day was actually preferable to staying home and not seeing their peers and teachers on a regular basis.

When asked what message or form of motivation had been most useful in convincing students to practice social distancing and to consistently wear masks, Walker, Bear and Schmidt all gave almost identical, and somewhat surprising, answers.

“Most kids want to come to school, and they understand that wearing masks and social distancing is essential to keeping our campus open,” Walker said.

Schmidt agreed.

“We just try to stay consistent and continue to remind students that these things [social distancing and mask-wearing] are essential to maintaining in-person learning,” Schmidt said.

Bear and her staff even set up a separate room for students who wanted to come to campus, but who also wanted to remain isolated due to COVID concerns. That room, according to Bear, has been largely uninhabited for most of the school year.

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