Aspen Schools campus

The Aspen School District had been hopeful that all students in all grades would be able to return to classrooms Tuesday, after Monday’s teacher work day. But after a number of secondary school teachers reported being in quarantine — and with not enough substitutes to replace them — that won’t be possible for grades seven through 12.

It’ll be at least another week of virtual learning for those students, ASD Superintendent David Baugh confirmed Friday.

The Aspen Education Association on Friday evening released a statement blasting comments made during Tuesday’s board of education meeting by board member Katy Frisch, who was frustrated by the quarantines’ impacts on students’ education and didn’t hold back in saying so.

“The comments made by Ms. Frisch implying that, amongst other things, staff members are the cause of COVID spread in our community are not only presumptuous and egregious, but should not have been expressed in a public forum,” the statement on behalf of the organization, which represents 175 district educators and staff, said.

Frisch, when reached Friday evening for comment, said that while she apologized for the way she may have delivered her message Tuesday, she stood by what she said.

“Let me first say there are many teachers and staff members that I’m grateful for that are doing it all right, but we seem to have serial issues related to things not going right,” she said, noting what she described as alleged “poor decision-making” by school staff in their personal lives that has resulted in entire grade levels having to return to online learning models because of quarantines. “I did not name any individual teacher, I didn’t name the grade level — [although] everyone in school knows what it is; it’s an HR issue now.”

Frisch has been a vocal proponent of returning to in-school learning models as long as it’s safe to do so, a message she reiterated during the Tuesday school board meeting, citing a North Carolina study as one example she’d found suggesting that, when safety protocols are followed both in and out of the classroom, no student-to-teacher transmission occurred.

That study, from August to October and spearheaded by researchers at Duke University, traced the contacts of students who had tested positive for COVID-19 across 11 North Carolina school districts utilizing in-person learning during the first nine weeks of the school year. Six districts reported no secondary infection; two reported one case; and three reported multiple cases. In total, 32 cases had resulted from in-school transmission, and not one from student to staff.

“I had our medical team review the study to see that it was well done research,” Frisch said Friday. “I thought that was a really good, salient point. They didn’t find one case of student-to-teacher transmission, and this is multiple school districts.”

She was dismayed, then, to see Aspen schools continually moving grade levels back to remote learning, which she believes is not as effective for many students and places an undue burden on parents, she said.

“I talked someone out of dropping out of school last week — someone who is suffering and can’t figure out this online stuff. We’re trying to do the best we can, but at the end of the day, we need to be in school,” she said.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Frisch in her comments offered a hypothetical situation in which a parent making a $52,000 annual salary must stay home for a week to supervise their child’s online learning — essentially losing $1,000 of income for the family.

“It’s a financial impact on the individual families,” she said Friday. “When this bad behavior happens, I feel like it needs to be called out, and we as a school community need to be better about our protocols and following our protocols. Things happen; people will get sick, absolutely. But when people are making decisions that are clearly outside the rules … and that ends up quarantining the whole grade level, I have a big problem with that.”

AEA’s stance in its condemnation of Frisch’s statements, however, stood by the teachers it represents and criticized the school board member personally for her conduct.

“Our members are incredibly hard working and care deeply about the education, safety and well-being of our students, colleagues, and community,” the AEA statement emphasizes. “Educators in the Aspen School District have come to expect this behavior from Ms. Frisch during her tenure as school board member. However, the educators in ASD are hopeful that Ms. Frisch will reflect upon her conduct and its impact on morale. Further, the Aspen Education Association requests that Ms. Frisch refrain from discussing potential personnel issues during public board meetings.”

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.