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Teachers call on health board for back to school policy

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Posted at 5:42 PM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 09:54:46-04

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Multiple teachers from around the Pikes Peak Region urged the El Paso County Board of Health to consider the impact of returning to school from their perspective. During the public comments session of Wednesday's meeting, many teachers voiced concerns about the recent surge in cases of COVID-19.

"When schools were closed in March, this was akin to our school districts closing during a flurry and we all make fun of them for it," said Melissa Ellenberger, a teacher in Academy District 20. "We now have a blizzard. Why are we not closing during this blizzard?"

Immediately after the meeting, the teachers held signs while standing six feet apart on the grass outside of Centennial Hall. The purpose of that demonstration was to show that a typical classroom lacks the space necessary to spread students out by six feet.

Even a cohort system, where groups of students remain together for all of their classes, exposes teachers to large numbers of students each day.

"Just my cohort would be 94 students," said Cari Fox, a middle school teacher in Academy District 20. "Where they come from, the bus they ride to school, I don't know," Fox said.

Band and music classes tend to have even more students than other subjects. Lisa Smith, a middle school band director, choked back tears as she told the board about the size of her classes.

"I teach six classes a day. My smallest class is 27, my largest is 72, and I have 1,540 square feet in my room," Smith said. "I can't distance 72 kids on the best day."

The teachers who attended the meeting are members of the Pikes Peak Education Association. Ian Meyer, an elementary school music teacher in Widefield District 3, said members of the group want the board to establish a uniform public health policy when it comes to returning to school.

"District across El Paso County are picking and choosing which recommendations to follow because they are not mandated," Meyer explained. "If they're mandated, then we ensure that the districts, no matter who's in charge, have to follow a standard of health."

"We would like to see a checklist of requirements instead of some guidance and recommendations," said Angela Bird, president of the Widefield Education Association. "What are the things that are required for all students and all educators to return safely?"

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News5 has compiled links to all the school districts in southeastern Colorado so parents can find out district plans amid concerns about COVID-19. We're covering this issue as part of The Rebound Colorado as our communities find safe ways to get life back to normal while keeping everyone's health in mind.

Find your district's Back to School plan in response to COVID-19