Denver schools prepare for switch to online learning in two weeks

Colorado’s largest school district is spending this week gearing up for online learning to start April 7, when students would have returned from spring break.

While other districts immediately rolled out online learning plans when they announced their initial closures earlier this month, Denver called its closure an extended spring break and said it would plan for remote learning if school closures extended longer than the original end of spring break. Last week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis closed all schools statewide until at least April 17 and said it’s “increasingly unlikely” that in-person classes resume this school year.

Tamara Acevedo, deputy superintendent of academics for Denver Public Schools, said the district is trying to develop a plan that can serve all students.

“We’re working to create a plan that has equity as the primary focus,” she said.

Exactly what that will look like is still taking shape. District administrators are talking to counterparts in other districts with experience with online learning and with principals and teachers.

Denver administrators have been meeting virtually with principals and surveying parents about their access to internet and technology at home. The technology survey, available here, is open until noon Tuesday. Not all families have filled out the survey, and Acevedo said not all families will be able to.

“No information is still information,” she said.

The district has ordered 9,000 Chromebooks and plans to distribute those along with other laptops it has in its classrooms to families that don’t have laptops or tablets at home. The district serves 92,000 students. The district is encouraging families without internet to take advantage of free hotspots from Xfinity and also has mobile hotspots that it can make available to some families.

Wednesday through Friday, schools will distribute laptops to families that need them. Denver’s stay-at-home order, issued Monday by Mayor Michael Hancock, classifies educational institutions facilitating distance learning as an essential business that can continue to operate, provided people working there maintain a safe distance. It also allows school-based food distribution to continue.

Also this week: The district will hold virtual trainings with teachers to learn how to use online learning platforms and how to teach content online in an age-appropriate way. In accordance with Denver’s decentralized approach, school principals and even individual teachers will be able to choose whether to use district-developed materials and lesson plans or develop their own or use a hybrid approach.

Teachers will have another work day on Monday, April 6, to finalize plans.

Plans for how to best serve students with disabilities are “ongoing,” Acevedo said. New guidance issued Monday by the U.S. Department of Education said that districts have to make an effort to serve those students but should still move forward with distance learning plans even if they’re imperfect.

“We need schools to educate all students out of principle, rather than educate no students out of fear,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.

Acevedo said the district is asking for patience in the weeks ahead.

“We have to be flexible in this new environment because remote learning has not been the major source by which we’ve done learning, as a nation,” she said. “It’s been great in terms of the outpouring from the community. Principals have been forwarding their thinking. Districts that have already done this have shared what they’ve done. But we’ll just need to continue to learn.”