Inside Denver Public Schools’ draft plan for returning to school in person

A classroom in Denver’s Bruce Randolph School after it closed to in-person learning in March. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Singing would be prohibited. So would fans, portable cooling units, or anything else that could circulate classroom air — and possibly, the coronavirus. Masks would be required, and students would have to sit at desks all facing in the same direction. There would be no sharing of pencils or markers, no visitors, no field trips, and perhaps a shorter school day.

That’s a glimpse at what school could look like next month if Denver Public Schools reopens campuses to in-person learning five days a week, according to a 61-page draft planning document obtained by Chalkbeat. Denver, like other districts across Colorado, switched to remote learning in March in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.

While Denver has announced a full-time return, it’s not a sure thing: COVID-19 cases are rising in Colorado, and the district said in a letter to families Wednesday that it remains “ready to adjust our plans if health conditions change.” The district plans to release more details Monday. 

What is sure is that if buildings do reopen next month, the school day won’t look the same. 

Here are some of the rules and guidelines laid out in the planning document, which has been shared with district officials and school principals. District spokesperson Will Jones said the information is not final. District leaders are using it to plan next steps, he said. 

Health protocols

Everyone entering a Denver Public Schools building would undergo a health screening. Visitors, including parents, could not go beyond the front office.

All adults and students would be required to wear a mask or face shield, except when eating. Students and staff could also take “mask breaks” outside. Exceptions to the mask rule would be made for people who can’t wear them for health reasons. 

Each school would receive a supply of masks, face shields, thermometers, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant spray. The district is hoping to provide two cloth masks per student, and one thermometer for every 40 students.

Speech and language pathologists, teachers who serve English language learners, and others for whom masks would pose an issue could use clear masks or face shields.

Everyone would be asked to wash their hands upon arrival at school, and wash them again or use hand sanitizer at least once every two hours.

The district is working to ensure each school has a health office with one cot for every 400 students, a dedicated bathroom within 50 feet of the office, a working sink, easily cleanable surfaces, and an isolation area for sick students or staff.

The district has also provided schools with sneeze guards for the front office, classroom desk dividers where needed, handwashing signs for the restrooms, and signs that implore people to wear a mask, cover their cough, and not touch their face.

Inside the school

Everyone inside the school would be asked to physically distance 6 feet apart if possible.

Classroom seating would be arranged so students are all facing the same direction. “Community desks” would be removed.

Hallways would be clearly marked as “one way,” and passing periods would be staggered.

Libraries would be closed, though librarians could bring books to students.

Lockers would be off limits to most students.

Students would not be allowed to share papers, pencils, computers, or other supplies.

Students could share playground equipment, but only with their classmates.

Singing and wind instruments would be prohibited in music class.

Fans, window air conditioning units, portable cooling units, or other devices that blow air across a room would not be allowed, as they “may pose a risk of promulgating the spread.”

The district is servicing the ventilation systems and upgrading air filters in all school buildings.

Cohort groups

The district is defining a cohort as a group of no more than 30 students. 

Elementary school students would be limited to participating in two cohorts, meaning they would be exposed to fewer than 60 students. Reasons to mix cohorts could include pulling students out of class for special education or English language development lessons.

Middle and high school students would be limited to participating in four cohorts, exposing them to fewer than 120 students. Secondary students would mix when moving classes.

The same cohort sizes would apply to teachers. Elementary school teachers would be exposed to no more than 60 students. Middle and high school teachers would be exposed to no more than 120 students, as would special education, gifted and talented, English language development, art, music, gym, and other specialized teachers.

To minimize the number of students a teacher is exposed to, the district would encourage teachers to livestream their lesson from one classroom to another, provided that an adult is supervising the class without a teacher. That adult could be a paraprofessional.

Schools would be asked to limit the number of adults in a room to no more than five. Other than the classroom teacher, the adults could include special education teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, or English language development teachers.

An exception to the five-adults rule could apply to special education programs, where students with disabilities might require more adult support.

Quarantine plan

If a student or staff member tests positive for coronavirus, everyone in their cohorts would be told to stay home for 14 days. Their learning would move online. 

If that student also rides the bus or participates in athletics or attends a before- or after-school program, students and staff in those groups would have to quarantine, too.

If a student’s parent, guardian, or sibling tests positive, the student would have to quarantine for 14 days. If that student later tests positive, the entire cohort would have to quarantine.

If more than four people at a school test positive, the school would close for up to three days for a deep cleaning.


Every day, elementary students would get 140 minutes of literacy instruction, from 60 to 80 minutes of math, and 45 minutes of either science or social studies. Students would also get 45 minutes of physical education per week, and 135 minutes of art or music.

Secondary students would take four courses per quarter.  

Students learning English as a second language would still get their required 225 minutes per week of English lessons. Students with disabilities would get their required services.

High school students would get A-to-D letter grades or an incomplete for any failed course, which would not impact their GPA. Students would have one year to make up the course.

Schools would work one-on-one with students to adjust the grading if a student or family member gets sick, or if a student doesn’t have internet access at home, for example.

School lunch

Students would eat lunch in classrooms, though they could pick up “grab-and-go” food in the cafeteria. Schools might offer fewer choices to increase the efficiency of lunch lines. A hot vegetarian option would still be available every day. Students with special diets or allergies would still be accommodated.

Students would not be allowed to share food. Neither would adults, though school staff could still use faculty kitchens or lounges as long as they stay at least 6 feet from other people.

High schools would be closed campuses, meaning students could not leave to buy food.

Length of the school day

The plan requires teachers to monitor lunch rather than get a midday break. Because of that, the district is exploring the possibility of shortening the school day. 

If that happens, schools would plan “self-paced” courses for students to complete at home or in after-school programs. The self-paced courses would not be core content such as literacy or math, or required courses such as English language development.

School buses

Bus drivers and students would be required to wear masks on the bus.

Seating would be limited to one student per seat, for a maximum of 24 students. Exceptions would be made for siblings, who could share a seat.

Students would undergo a health screening before boarding the bus. For elementary students, a parent, guardian, or other adult responsible for that child would have to remain at the bus stop until the student passed the screening.

School bus transportation would be prioritized for young students and those with disabilities. Middle and high school students without disabilities could expect “little to no” transportation.

Buses could pick up or drop off students up to 45 minutes before or after the school bell. 

Field trips would not be allowed.


Classroom surfaces would be disinfected every night.

Restrooms would be cleaned every night. “High-risk touch points,” such as faucet knobs, toilet flush handles, bathroom stall locks and railings would be disinfected three times during the day.

Plush toys and other classroom items that cannot be easily cleaned would be removed.

Outdoor playground equipment would not be disinfected “due to staffing limitations.”

Teachers and staff would be given disinfectant spray or sanitizing wipes “to assist in preparing and disinfecting classrooms and work stations during the day.”

Remote learning

Families who do not want to send their children to school in person can choose a remote learning option. This option would be available to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but not students in preschool — at least not during the fall semester.

Families enrolled in the remote option would be committed through the end of the first semester in December, with some exceptions for families with extenuating circumstances.

The district expects the remote option would be “centrally managed,” meaning it may not be specific to a student’s school. But students would not lose their enrollment spot at their school. Similarly, teachers teaching remote lessons would not lose their job at their school.

The remote learning option would use the district-provided curriculum, which might be different than the one at a student’s school.

To provide consistency, the district would limit the number of virtual learning platforms to two: SeeSaw for kindergarten through fifth grade and Schoology for grades 6 through 12. 

All students in grades 1 through 12, including those who choose the in-person option, would be provided with computers or tablets. Priority for computers and internet hotspots would be given to students participating in the remote option, including kindergarteners.

Hybrid contingency plan

If conditions worsen and the district has to move to a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, it would use the schedule favored by parents who responded to a survey: an “AA/BB” schedule. 

Students in the A group would attend school in person two consecutive days a week and remotely three days a week. The same would go for students in the B group. 

The fifth day of the week would be reserved for students with the highest needs, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and refugee students. Schools could offer the fifth day to other students who need extra help, too.

If the district had to move to a hybrid schedule, it would prioritize providing child care for the children of teachers and other school-based staff.

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