A move to grant a range of emergency powers to the superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools amid state-ordered school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak raised some questions among district teachers and parents on Wednesday.
But a first-ever video conference school board meeting that drew upwards of 160 participants at one point also helped appease some of the concerns.
The board ultimately gave unanimous approval to the resolution granting emergency powers to Superintendent Rob Stein during the current public health crisis, though not without some tweaks.
Namely, any changes to the current school-year calendar would have to be discussed and approved by the school board.
Also, any emergency purchases related to health and safety, curriculum or delivery of online instruction above $100,000 would need board approval.
The emergency powers resolution will be revisited at the board’s regular April 22 meeting, and could be rescinded depending on the status of the state’s public health restrictions at that time.
Stein said at the start of the Wednesday meeting that plans currently do not include any alteration of the school-year calendar or an early start to next school year, even if the state’s school closure order extends past April 20.
Such an extension is a strong likelihood, Stein acknowledged, given the latest directives coming from state officials.
Although the Colorado Department of Education has granted a waiver for school districts to adjust their calendars to finish out the year, that’s not the plan for schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, he said.
“We will do our best to catch kids up within the parameters of the normal school-year calendar,” Stein said. “Our goal is also to make sure our (seniors) graduate on time and to provide the support necessary to aid in that.”
The interactive video meeting took place via Google Meets, one of the many platforms available for online conferencing. Current state and county health restrictions prohibit public gatherings of more than four people, including in-person government meetings.
Each of the school board members and district staff participated from home or a remote location during the late afternoon session.
It was the public participation that was particularly eye-opening for anyone viewing the meeting online.
At one point, there were 158 participants logged into the meeting, either on their computers, smartphones or from a call-in phone line.
Most of the interest had to do with the board resolution granting emergency executive powers. The provision was recommended for districts across the state by the Colorado Association of School Boards, as a way to allow for quick response to student and building health/safety measures, delivery of meals to students in need, and to allow for the implementation of alternative online teaching methods.
A primary concern among the many teachers who weighed in revolved around fears that the school year could extend into the summer months, and any resulting changes to teacher contracts.
A lot of teachers transition to summer jobs after the end of the school year in early June. Teachers said they need the certainty to be able to do that.
District officials clarified that teaching contracts cannot be altered under the resolution, but assignments and duties related to online student instruction could be.
Another concern had to do with handing over certain decision-making power to the superintendent, without the board’s checks and balances.
Stein said no decisions will be made unilaterally. Any decision always involves input from the administrative team and the board is kept in the loop, he said.
Board members said the emergency provisions are no different from what school districts and other entities across the country are implementing in reaction to the current public health crisis.
“Some of the mistruths and speculation that is being thrown around is just propagating fear and rumors, and that’s the last thing we need right now,” board member Jennifer Scherer said. “The superintendent and his team have been tireless in working to address these issues, and we can’t have a school board meeting every time a decision needs to be made.”
Board member Jasmin Ramirez noted that there were some valid concerns expressed, and those were addressed with the amendments that were made to the resolution.
“There are situations happening right now on a day-to-day basis that need to be remediated as quickly as they can,” she said.
Stein added that any potential changes in teaching schedules would likely involve greater flexibility to be able to deliver online instruction to students.
A separate policy before the school board Wednesday amended provisions for board members to participate in board meetings electronically rather than in person. Previously, a remote participant could not be counted toward the board’s quorum. The policy change allows for those members to be counted.