Aurora plans for fall in-person return to classes for elementary and middle grades

First graders at Paris Elementary in Aurora use toys and light pointers to help focus while reading individually.
File photo of students at Paris Elementary in Aurora. (Yesenia Robles / Chalkbeat)

Elementary and middle schools students in Aurora schools will have the opportunity to return to school five days per week this fall.

District officials presented the school board Tuesday night with the intended final plan for restarting school this August. 

In elementary and middle schools students would be put into groups so that they interact with the same peers throughout the day and week. In high school, students would have a mix of in-person classes and online learning from home. Any student could also opt to do remote learning full time instead.

Masks would be required for students in grades six through 12, and required for elementary students only “when social distancing cannot be met.” 

District officials also said they are working with a nonprofit organization to conduct regular COVID-19 testing for staff. And they highlighted how they would transition back to remote or hybrid models in the case of outbreaks, large numbers of staff absences, or changes in health guidelines.

“We don’t have a crystal ball,” said Christie Imholt, the district’s policy director.

Several school districts have announced in the last few weeks plans to get most students back to school five days a week, following a strong interest from parents. Districts have also cited comments from Gov. Jared Polis, who has expressed optimism about being able to relax regulations for schools in August.

Positive COVID-19 cases in Colorado have started rising in the last two weeks. On Tuesday, the governor ordered that bars that had opened must close again. Some projection models suggest that hospitals could be over capacity by late July or early August, depending on how much people limit their interactions. 

Aurora officials Tuesday cited evolving information about COVID-19 and children, but pointed out that children appear to have lower rates of infection and are less likely to have serious complications.

Board members asked Aurora officials for details on providing masks — families will be responsible for their students’ masks — and details about what would happen if a student is at school when they start showing symptoms. The district will designate places to isolate such students until they can go home.

As part of the plan, the board also voted to delay the start of school for students by one week. Students in grades one through 12 will start Aug. 18. Students in kindergarten and preschool will start Aug. 24. Staff will still return to work as previously planned and will use the extra time to train in the new structures and health protocols. 

Superintendent Rico Munn said other calendar changes may be necessary. The district also may change transportation policies and graduation requirements.

The district will now work with the teachers union and others in the district on details of how these plans will be rolled out.

Bruce Wilcox, the president of teachers union in Aurora, said that he and the union board will review the plan to figure out what waivers to the work contract may be necessary.

“Our teachers want to provide the best learning opportunities for our students and want to make sure they are the best and safest conditions to accomplish that,” Wilcox said.

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