In the most recent Jeffco School Board meeting, several topics were discussed without covering a ton of new ground. COVID-19 policies and monitoring were clarified, a group of worried Fitzmorris parents and staff spoke during public comment and district employees continue to leave during a time when many departments are already short-staffed.
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On the COVID-19 front, Pam Yoder, Jeffco’s COVID Response Team project manager, gave an update on changing guidance around isolation and quarantine times. Yoder said CDC guidance has been adjusted to a minimum of five days of isolation or quarantine for students and adults who have tested positive or been exposed (with guidelines, depending upon vaccination status). She said the only mandates currently in effect for the district are masks and quarantines.
“There is a surge for the Omicron variant,” Yoder said. “The Omicron variant is prevalent in schools and we need to use other mitigation strategies.”
She said the District knows that masks, testing and distancing are the best strategies and that moving forward, they will continue to look at Omicron’s impact on schools — monitoring attendance and the need for substitute teachers — to best determine if a decision will need to be made about how schools will operate moving forward.
One significant change that will be taking place during the spring semester is that unvaccinated students will no longer be required to take weekly COVID-19 tests to be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.
Masks will continue to be required for all participants, coaches/sponsors and spectators.
One of the most notable parts of the meeting was somewhat buried in the Consent Agenda section. Board members are required to approve resignations and terminations, and as a consent agenda item, this type of item is routinely approved without discussion. However, from November through early January, the District lost 91 workers, the vast majority of which were resignations, not terminations. Of the 91 employees who’ve left their jobs, 17 were teachers, one was a special education learning specialist, one was a counselor and one was a school nurse.
The district also lost bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and paraprofessionals, to name just a few of the important positions at a time when they’re already short-staffed.
In two cases, positions were eliminated, in another, the employee was dismissed and one employee’s departure was “performance” related. Retirement was listed as the reason for 13 employees leaving. Still, that leaves approximately 70 employees who resigned in a time when retention is critical. In roughly the same timeframe, eight new hires were made. Additionally, seven administrative appointments were made from Dec. 2021 - Jan. 2022. However, these appear to be new positions, not replacement staff to make up for workers lost.
Parents, teachers and the principal of Arvada’s Fitzmorris Elementary spoke during public comment of growing concerns about possible closure of the small, neighborhood school, with many referencing discussions of the possible closure allegedly being held by the District.
Jenn Withee, Fitzmorris’ principal, spoke first, calling it an incredible school with a truly amazing community. Withee said one of the biggest challenges the school is facing, due to declining enrollment, has been the need to have more split-grade classrooms, which can make it more difficult for students to engage in a rigorous curriculum connected to grade-level standards. Decline in enrollment also caused the school to lose a licensed teacher. The school now has only five licensed teachers for six grade levels (K-5).
Withee and others who spoke, called for the board to take a hard look at equity in the district, referencing the lack of resources, activities and after-care opportunities for families.
The board does not engage with speakers during public comment, so no feedback was given. As of the writing of this article, Fitzmorris Elementary continues to be an option for the 2022 school year in Jeffco’s open enrollment process which ends Jan. 10.
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