Elizabeth schools’ COVID policies draw scrutiny

Health agency, some parents disagree with stance


The Elizabeth School District were at odds with the Elbert County Public Health Department over whether or not the latest influx of COVID-19 cases is considered an official outbreak.

According to the Elbert County Health Department, as of Sept. 15, 48 students within the school district had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“There were three times as many known, confirmed infections among students, faculty, and staff as is needed to identify an outbreak,” said Dwayne Smith, Elbert County public health director, in a phone interview Sept. 15. “Logic would dictate that there are more than 48 based on the prevailing low vaccination rate among eligible folks within the 80107 zip code.”

The superintendent of the Elizabeth School District argued, however, that the Elbert County Health Department’s COVID-19 data was incorrect and that there was not an outbreak in the district.

Superintendent Douglas Bissonette, in a brief email exchange with the Elbert County News on Sept. 15, addressed the “layers of protection” that the school district has taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Bissonette said that these include:

1. Excluding people from school who are ill, COVID positive or share a household with someone who has the virus or is awaiting a test result.

2. Providing free, rapid COVID tests to all interested individuals.

3. Filtering airborne particles from all classrooms and other indoor spaces.

4. Bringing additional outside air into buildings.

5. Taking students outside for learning and breaks.

6. Continuously running air circulation systems while buildings are occupied.

7. Assessing indoor air quality levels through use of carbon dioxide monitors.

8. Conducting contact tracing among all COVID-positive individuals.

9. Sharing information on all positive cases at school to public health.

10. Complying with federal regulations requiring face masks on school buses.

11. Synthesizing all available evidence to understand what is working in our schools and where to improve.

What this list does not include are protocols encouraged by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Elbert County Public Health Department, such as masking, hand-washing and social distancing.

Some parents of students in the Elizabeth School District say they are angry with the way school leadership is handling COVID-19 and the recent outbreak.

Recently, Roxanne Aviles of Elizabeth reached out to the Elbert County News regarding her concern for her children and the school district’s perceived lack of COVID-19 precautions.

In an email exchange from Sept. 15, Aviles shared her fears. “What will it take for Elbert County Public Health to step in with some form of enforcement or protection, especially for our kids who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination,” said Aviles.

Smith, the Elbert County public health director, indicated in the phone interview that the department is responsible for compiling data and providing public information. It is at the discretion of the school districts to use that information and create working protocols.

Aviles took her concerns to the Elizabeth School District board meeting on Sept. 13, criticizing the school board’s “layers of protection” in an open letter.

“There was no mention of hand washing, sanitizing, not even a word about enhanced cleaning of our facilities, let alone masks,” said Aviles. “I urge you all to take this pandemic seriously. To trust and believe in the science and to stand by your core value of students being at the heart of everything that you do, and I ask that you protect our children before it is too late.”

Mirroring the concerns of Roxanne Aviles is Michelle Thompson of Elizabeth, mother of four Elizabeth School District students. Thompson has been fighting with the school district for months regarding COVID-19 safety protocols.

In response to an email from Superintendent Bissonette on April 18 in which he notified parents of two Elizabeth High School students testing positive for COVID-19, Thompson wrote a stern reply.

“My children will not be attending school for two weeks and I hope it is understood why. I also expect all missed work be forgiven, as this is gross negligence on behalf of the Elizabeth School board!” exclaimed Thompson. “My children will not suffer at the hands of people that have no knowledge of immunology, virology, or health at all.”

Due to the recent outbreak within the school district, Thompson and her husband have decided to withdraw three of their four children from school for the foreseeable future.

Bissonette, in the Sept. 15 email exchange regarding his plan moving forward, did not indicate that any changes would be made to their current protocol.

For information on Colorado’s COVID-19 data, visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website at covid19.colorado.gov/data. For information on Elbert County Public Health, visit elbertcounty-co.gov/254/COVID-19-Information. For Elizabeth School District COVID-19 updates and resources, visit elizabethschooldistrict.org/Page/2337.


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