SUIMA seeks parent input on reopening plans

Makayla Taylor concentrates on placing the correct pieces into a globe puzzle during class at the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy on Thursday, Jan. 30. Sensory learning is vital in the Montessori way of teaching.
Sakarii Goodtracks draws a portrait of herself while Tia Howe picks out a new color of crayon to finish coloring her eyes during the first day of school at the Academy in 2019. Social distancing and other safety measures will play a major role in how classrooms will be structured in 2020-2021.
McKayla Lee | SU Drum archive
McKayla Lee | SU Drum archive

Members of the Southern Ute Tribal Council and the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy met with the Ignacio School District to hear comments and concerns about the announced re-opening of Ignacio schools via a Zoom meeting on Friday, July 24.

In the Zoom meeting, the Ignacio School District provided the Southern Ute Tribe with their plan to re-open the Ignacio public schools, including guidelines for two options to return to school in 2020-21. The options can be seen in detail in the Ignacio School Re-opening Snapshot.

  • Option 1 – On Campus Learning: With safety precautions in place
  • Option 2 – Remote Learning: This option requires each student to virtually attend classes as they occur within the school day.

Chris deKay, Ignacio School District’s Curriculum Director expressed, “things have changed over the last month, and things might change over the next month.” And added, “we will be responsive to change to State mandates or Federal mandates as the case may be.”

The school re-opening plan stresses safety and encourages flexibility through cooperation with staff, parents/guardians, and students. The goal will continue to be high academic growth for students in a safe and supportive environment.

LaTitia Taylor, Southern Ute Education Director said, “the Ignacio District is re-opening in similar ways to Bayfield, Durango, and Denver schools. The schools will follow the Colorado standard, by offering an option with in-class or online, and also offering hybrid learning.”

Taylor also added, “In-person is the best way to learn, social interaction with students, friends [is] human nature. This build characteristics, as we’re social beings through sensory such as – touch and sharing emotions.”

In a paper released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall,” the CDC stated in the paper, “aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.  The in-person school environment does the following: provides educational instruction, supports the development of social and emotional skills, creates a safe environment for learning, addresses nutritional needs and facilitates physical activity.”

The CDC also stated in the paper, “children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.” The CDC backed this information from the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Available at and provided the following statistics, “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under seven percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.”

Not everyone agrees. Many parents, students and school staff are apprehensive to send their students to school, to an environment that will need to see drastic changes with the way students would normally engage with each other and teachers.

The Ignacio School District announced in a virtual school board meeting on July 9, board members voted unanimously against a mandatory face-covering requirement for staff members and students.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued an Executive Mandatory Mask Order on July 16. The mandatory mask order, has been extended until Aug. 15, and applies to any indoor area, publicly or privately owned. Anyone older than 10 years of age must wear a nonmedical face covering.

As for the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy’s (SUIMA) reopening, Taylor stated, “We are trying to do the right thing. This isn’t something we’re all used to, everyone is being proactive and planning it out.”

SUIMA staff took their re-opening guidelines to the SUIMA School Board and were directed to conduct a survey with parents to see what they would like SUIMA to do. The deadline to get the survey turned in to SUIMA is Tuesday, August 4, and a decision on the academy’s re-opening will be decided then.

Safety is the number one concern for re-opening. Both the Ignacio School District and SUIMA are giving the responsibility to the parent to ensure they are not sending their kids to schools with Coronavirus symptoms. Checking their child’s temperature prior to bringing them to school, for example.

In SUIMA, masks and social distancing will be enforced. Teachers will receive training and the Southern Ute Shared Service (SUSS) department will be installing cameras for those students who will be learning from home remotely.

Mari Jo Owens, SUIMA Principal said, “The biggest challenge was to get the Montessori lesson taught with limited computer access for SUIMA students,” as electronic devices such as tablets, and computers were needed to piece-mill the lessons remotely.

Internet connection was another obstacle in learning for the SUIMA students and teachers. Some teachers were even conducting class from their vehicles to access Wi-Fi, as internet connections in remote locations are not always readily available.  Having a strong internet signal is especially important when conducting a virtual class lesson through Zoom.

“Overall last year went well. When we teach in person on campus, we do the best teaching hands on. It’s different from pencil and paper,” Owens said in reference to online classes.

SUIMA had 109 registered students last fall, with 115 students overall for the 2019-2020 school year. SUIMA employs 45 administration staff members, 21 teachers, with two teachers in each class, Upper Elementary having one teacher and one aide.

“We want to keep the pandemic ordinance in mind and not violating that,” Taylor emphasized. “SUIMA will have a head count, incorporating social distancing with no overcrowding.”

SUIMA is still looking to re-open Monday, August 24. “We have been working with SUSS, and we will have our enrollment packet online for the first time, starting Saturday, Aug. 1 through Monday, Aug. 10,” said Owens. The online registration packet can be found at

Returning SUIMA students will need to submit enrollment packets. Enrollment will re-open again for winter enrollment in December. If students are on the waiting list from the fall registration, they will have priority to be registered at that time.

Once the re-opening guidelines for SUIMA to re-open are approved by the SUIMA School Board, the guidelines will be published on their website and online in The Southern Ute Drum.

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