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Schools to reopen in Grand County after East Troublesome Fire forced closures, evacuations

Students and teachers have been out of school since the East Troublesome Fire made a massive run on Oct. 21.

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — When teachers in Grand County left their schools on Oct. 21, the smoke plume from the East Troublesome Fire followed them home.

“I was in the middle of parent-teacher conferences online on Zoom from my house, and I started watching the sky grow black above our house and ash falling," recalled Sarah Bole.

The English teacher at Middle Park High School was home with her daughter, Zoe, when the emergency alert sounded on her phone.

“It was the evacuation notice that we needed to leave immediately," she said. “When I looked out the window and it was black and I knew, we did not have much time.”

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Sarahbeth Bankert, a fifth-grade teacher at Granby Elementary School, was home, too, when she and her boyfriend received the mandatory evacuation order.

"That was quite a night seeing those flames driving down [Highway] 34 because they were very visible as you were driving down," Bankert said.

Bankert and Bole evacuated fearing the worst, but the flames that destroyed hundreds of structures spared their homes.

"There's no sense, no rhyme or reason to what happened to people's houses," Bole said.

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The teachers know that the East Troublesome Fire took everything from some of their students and their families. The fire also temporarily canceled classes, but on Monday, students and teachers in Grand County are headed back to school.

"The school decided for some sort of normalcy we needed to go back [Monday]," Bole said. "I think in everything that's happened – the fire, COVID, all of these things, kids need normal."

In a letter posted to the East Grand School District website, Superintendent Frank Reeves shared the news with students and families about classes resuming Nov. 2.

"We also recognize that for some families and students, school is not a priority at this time," Reeves wrote. "We will be flexible in working with individual family situations as we recover from this tragedy."

Bole said teachers need their students as much as students need their teachers. She wishes classes could resume after the fire in a world where COVID-19 and required social distancing didn't exist. 

“I think that’s going to be the hardest part that – those kids need a hug from their teacher, and I need a hug from them, and we won’t be able to do that," she said.

While Bole will be back in class Monday, the pandemic will prevent Bankert from seeing her fifth graders.

"I was contacted by the county [Sunday] that I had close contact with a recent COVID positive person of the county, so I am on quarantine for the next week," she said. "For me not to be there [Monday] morning is going to be rough."

Even in the toughest of times, teachers like Bankert and Bole leave their students with a lesson.

"No one is alone," Bole said. "It is community and family and friends that are most important."

When she returns to class, Bankert wants to share a similar message with her kids.

"We can still hold onto hope and big dreams for our community, even with a setback like this," she said.

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