Colorado school reopening updates: Sheridan district delays planned return to in-person learning

An elementary school child in a sweatshirt, baseball hat, and gloves stands on a foursquare court painted on blacktop on a playground. The child’s back is to the camera and their arms are outstretched as if hitting the ball.
Kids play foursquare beneath light flurries before class begins at Carson Elementary, March 13, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Get news and updates on Colorado school districts’ evolving fall plans below.

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Nov. 24

Sheridan school district pushes planned in-person return to January

The small Sheridan school district on the southwestern edge of Denver is delaying a planned return to in-person learning, citing the ongoing wave of coronavirus cases sweeping the community.  

The 1,200-student district had planned to again offer an in-person option to families starting Nov. 30, after Thanksgiving break. 

Now the plan is to attempt a return on Jan. 19, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, for families who want that option, the district said Tuesday. All families who want to stay all remote will be able to do so.

Superintendent Pat Sandos said in a statement that the district’s data continues to show that spread of the virus is minimal inside schools. He added that the district successfully offered in-person learning for 11 weeks for all grade levels earlier in the fall, and that teachers and students “now have a good connection.” 

“Let’s all do our part in the community to suppress this wave — wearing masks, washing hands, practice social distancing, and keeping gatherings to immediate family only,” he said. “If we all do our part we can get back more quickly to what we all want — and that’s schools humming along at full throttle. We know we will get there but how soon is really all up to each of us.”

The district’s announcement came on the same day Gov. Jared Polis announced a “back-to-school task force” to help school districts offer as much uninterrupted in-person learning as possible in the second semester. The group is supposed to meet for the first time Wednesday.

— Eric Gorski

Nov. 17

District 27J and Mapleton will move to remote learning

The 19,000-student 27J and 9,000-student Mapleton districts are the latest two in metro Denver to announce a shift to remote learning after offering in-person instruction for the last three months.

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Mapleton students will move to remote learning Nov. 18 and continue in that model till they return for second-semester classes Jan. 11. In a letter sent Monday, Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said she’d planned to continue with in-person learning for the remainder of the semester, but the surge in local cases and likelihood of new restrictions from the Tri-County Health Department prompted the reversal.

In Brighton-based 27J Schools, middle and high school students will start remote instruction Dec. 1 and elementary students will start Dec. 2., according to a letter from Superintendent Chris Fiedler. Students will continue with remote instruction through the end of the first semester on Dec. 18.

Fiedler explained the shift, citing the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, the staffing and operations challenges of continuing in-person school, and the possibility of more restrictive public health orders coming this week.

“I know this is disappointing news,” he wrote.

All 27J students will begin second semester on Jan. 5 learning remotely, with students who’ve opted for in-person instruction going to in-person classes starting Jan. 12.

Fiedler explained the delay of in-person learning by a week in second semester, writing, “Being candid, the Halloween holiday weekend was hard on us operationally in terms of the number of required quarantines brought about due to activities outside of the school setting. We want that additional week after winter break to be remote so we can be in a strong position operationally when we return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 12.”

— Ann Schimke

Nov. 14

Westminster Public Schools reverses course, will remain remote

Another suburban Adams County district is moving to remote learning as COVID cases continue to rise.

Students in Westminster Public Schools will remain remote at least through winter break rather than return to school buildings Monday as planned. Students have been learning from home for the last two weeks as part of what the district hoped would be a “reset.” Westminster Superintendent Pam Swanson made the announcement in a YouTube video Saturday.

Westminster district leaders have been very committed to in-person learning. High numbers of positive cases, leading to 12% of students being quarantined, prompted the “reset” effort during the first two weeks of November. But as recently as Friday, students were still due back in the classroom on Monday.

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In the video, Swanson said the district changed its plans after seeing the results of recent student COVID testing and consulting with public health officials. Most likely, hundreds of students would have been placed in quarantine almost immediately if students returned, she said.

Of note, Swanson said she learned on Friday that “new stay-at-home type restrictions are going to be issued.” While state rules don’t require it, remote learning is suggested under Stay at Home. Swanson did not say whether those orders would come from local or state officials.

Local public health leaders, including John Douglas of Tri-County Public Health, which oversees Adams County, sent a letter to Gov. Jared Polis earlier this month asking him to issue additional restrictions in places with high rates of transmission, including stay-at-home orders. For his part, Polis has repeatedly called Stay at Home a blunt tool that he does not want to use. State officials have said counties are welcome to issue their own restrictions.

Swanson’s statement is the first public indication that tighter restrictions are coming soon.

An estimated one out of every 58 Adams County residents has COVID-19, and the county is one of two in Colorado for which all three metrics on the state dial system are in the “red” category. Test positivity over the last two weeks has averaged 16%, an indication of high rates of community spread, as well as of inadequate testing capacity. Hospitalizations are also increasing.

– Erica Meltzer

Nov. 9

Adams 12 Five Star Schools elementary students to start learning from home

Less than a month after moving its middle and high school students to remote learning, Adams 12 Five Star Schools is also moving its elementary students to remote learning, starting Nov. 16.

Superintendent Chris Gdowski announced the change Monday.

“Simply put, we’ve now reached the point at which the benefits of in-person learning for our youngest students are outweighed by the disruption caused by abrupt transitions to quarantines and by the risk of COVID exposures within our schools,” he wrote, describing “unrelenting increases in COVID cases.”

Adams County, located north and west of Denver and encompassing many working-class suburban communities, has some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in Colorado and is among the counties at risk of new “Stay At Home” orders on the state’s dial system. That system still gives school districts discretion about whether to hold classes in person or online.

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Gdowski said that Adams 12 has seen more than 200 staff and students test positive for COVID, leading to quarantines for more than 3,300 students and 600 staff. In the last 10 days, seven elementary schools had to go to remote learning for a two-week period due to positive cases, with four of those having to make the switch between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening.

Schools that are still open will remain so through Friday. Students will start learning from home next Monday. Adams 12 schools will remain remote through the end of the fall semester Dec. 17.

Gdowski said the district may not immediately return to in-person learning after winter break because public health experts are expecting another surge after the holidays even if Colorado manages to curtail cases before then.

Nonetheless, families will be asked to decide whether they want their students enrolled in person or online by the end of Thanksgiving break.

In the Pikes Peak region, District 49 also decided to move to remote learning, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported. Pueblo 60 officials said high school students in the southern Colorado city will start learning remotely this week, with younger students to stay home starting Nov. 30, the Chieftain reported. And in Douglas County, the interim superintendent warned parents to be prepared for a switch, according to Colorado Community Media.

Littleton Public Schools sent Littleton and Heritage high schools to remote learning through Nov. 20 due to staff shortages, but is keeping most other students in the south suburban district in school. Even though the district’s dashboard calls for remote learning, a district spokeswoman said decisions would be made on a school-by-school basis for as long as possible.

Other districts in the Denver metro area with all or most students learning from home include Denver, Aurora, Cherry Creek, Adams 14, Westminster, and Sheridan.

— Erica Meltzer

Nov. 5

Cherry Creek, Sheridan announce switch to remote learning

Another large Denver metro area district is switching to remote learning as cases of COVID and hospitalizations continue to increase, as is the small Sheridan district southwest of Denver.

The decisions come as many counties in the Denver metro area and around the state are seeing rising cases and moving to new levels of restrictions.

The 53,000-student Cherry Creek Schools district announced Thursday that its middle and high school students would finish this week in school, take Monday and Tuesday off so that teachers can plan, and then begin learning online Wednesday. Elementary students will stay in school through Wednesday, take next Thursday and Friday off, and start learning online Nov. 16.

“I do not take the decision to switch to remote learning lightly,” Superintendent Scott Siegfried wrote in a letter to the community. “I have said from the beginning that the data will determine whether we have in-person or remote learning, and the data has clearly shown a sustained trend of concerning numbers.”

While internal district numbers show lower rates among students and staff and relatively few instances of spread within schools, “the level of spread in the community is so significant that we are seeing increased student and staff cases coming into the schools from the community making it more difficult to operate,” he continued.

Older students are transitioning to learning from home first because they have higher rates of infection, the district said.

Cherry Creek offered in-person learning for 11 weeks. Siegfried did not give a date for returning to learning in the classroom. Instead, that will happen when the district’s dashboard has shown sustained positive trends for one to two weeks. Siegfried said the district is talking to public health officials and the teachers union about bringing the youngest students back sooner. Denver and Aurora continue to hold class in person for younger elementary students even as all other students are learning from home.

The 1,200-student Sheridan district also announced a longer-term switch to remote learning starting Monday. The small district first took a one-week break starting Oct. 23.

“It is my hope our collective action will allow students to remain in-person moving forward,” Superintendent Pat Sandos wrote in a letter to the community. “However, even with the strongest health and safety protocols in place at our schools, the burden of keeping cases down lies with the community.”

Campus closures are also spreading outside the metro area. The Fort Lupton-based Weld Re-8 district in Weld County will go remote at least through Nov. 30, and in southwest Colorado, the Montezuma-Cortez district announced its intention to go remote after the Thanksgiving holiday with a plan to return by Jan. 11.

— Erica Meltzer

Nov. 3

Colorado schools are critical businesses. What does this mean?

As COVID cases and hospitalizations surge around the state, Gov. Jared Polis and state public health officials have clarified that schools are classified as critical businesses. That means that schools can continue to operate even if the counties in which they are located move into “Stay At Home,” the most restrictive level on the state’s dial system.

Both Denver and Adams counties are currently in Level 3, the second most restrictive level, and several school districts have moved some or all students to remote learning. These counties could move into the most restrictive level on the state dial later this month if current trends don’t reverse. Under Stay At Home, the state recommends schools operate remotely, with very limited in-person offerings.

However, it’s ultimately up to school district administrators to make that call.

“This clarifies that local districts are able to make determinations on how to structure the format of education based on local factors,” a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in an email explaining the critical business designation.

Critical businesses, including schools, are still required to comply with social distancing measures and must work with local public health agencies on safety plans if they remain open, the spokesperson said.

In an email to the community Tuesday, Jeffco Public Schools officials pointed to this flexibility in saying they would remain in-person as long as possible. Jefferson County is currently in Level 2, the third most restrictive level, and has the potential to move either to Level 3 or directly to Stay At Home.

“Unless Gov. Polis mandates that schools go fully remote, decisions remain in the hands of individual school districts,” Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh said. “Jefferson County is large, and the data may not necessarily reflect what is happening in our schools. If the rate of COVID-19 transmission and outbreaks within schools becomes unmanageable due to illness, quarantines, and staffing shortages, Jeffco Public Schools would consider a switch to 100% remote learning. If the district’s positive case rate continues to be manageable, we will do our best to continue to have in-person learning in some form as long as it is safe to do so.”

Districts around the metro area are struggling with how to respond to the rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

The Cherry Creek School District’s own dashboard has called for remote learning for the last week. Superintendent Scott Siegfried has not made a decision yet, but in a letter to parents sent Tuesday, he said teachers had been advised to send students home with materials so they are prepared for either scenario.

Read more: Here’s how the state’s dial of restrictions applies to Colorado schools

— Erica Meltzer

Oct. 29

Denver parents plan protest to call for restoration of in-person options

Using the hashtag #Saferatschool, a group of Denver parents is planning both physical and virtual protests of the district’s decision to have older elementary students join middle and high school students in learning from home.

Denver started the school year remotely and had just completed a phased return for all elementary students on Oct. 21. Then on Tuesday, after the city moved to the second-highest level of restrictions in response to a rising number of COVID cases, the district announced that students in grades 3 through 5 would return to remote learning on Monday and stay at home through the Thanksgiving holiday. Middle and high school students will remain remote through the end of the semester on Dec. 18.

“We drove her to school in tears after she found out,” said Park Hill parent Tyler Carlson of his fifth-grade daughter. “It was the happiest week of her life when she could go back to school.”

Carlson is one of the parents involved in organizing the protest, which includes a gathering in front of Denver Public Schools’ headquarters at 1860 Lincoln St. at 4 p.m. Friday and a call for parents to not log their children into online lessons on Monday. Those who attend the rally are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Carlson said he’s seen friends and family members in other districts send their children to school safely, and he wants the same for his four children, including one in middle school and two in high school.

Danielle Gooden, a parent at Cory Elementary in southeast Denver, said she feels like the rug has been pulled out from under her. She’s glad her second-grader can keep going to school, but that made it even harder to explain to her fourth-grader why she has to return home. The isolation of remote school had turned her daughter into “a shell of herself,” Gooden said. And diagnostic tests have placed her daughter a year below grade level, behind where she was when she left school in March.

“It’s safer for children to be in school because it’s a controlled environment,” she said. “Let’s follow the data and the science.”

District officials have pointed to the likelihood of frequent quarantines and disruptions as a major reason to keep or move students to remote learning. That disruption would likely hit schools in southwest and northeast Denver more frequently because the city’s working class Black and Latino neighborhoods have been hit harder by COVID.

Superintendent Susana Cordova has said equity is a top consideration in reopening plans. Black and Latino families have also chosen remote learning at higher rates than have white families.

Gooden said parents who want to be remote should have that option, but schools in parts of town with lower rates of COVID should not have to close.

“Maybe there is a certain area that has a high positivity rate. Maybe that area needs to stay closed or get additional resources [to open safely], but you shouldn’t force everyone to stay closed,” she said. “Their only goal should be to reopen as many schools as possible, to educate as many children as possible.”

The parents organizing the protest are primarily from southeast Denver and the Park Hill and Central Park neighborhoods, and they acknowledge they are mostly white and middle class, unlike the majority of Denver students. Gooden and Carlson said they want to be inclusive and welcome all parents to join them.

“My kids have got everything going for them,” Carlson said. “They have two parents who love them, we have a stable home, I know how to work technology. And if kids who have everything going for them are crying and falling apart, what is happening in households where they do not have that support?”

While Black and Latino parents chose remote learning at roughly twice the rate of white parents, a majority of all parents said they preferred an in-person option.

“You can choose the online component, but if you haven’t, no matter what your race or affluence, those parents want their kids in school, and the rug was pulled out from under them,” Gooden said.

Nicholas Martinez of the advocacy group Transform Education Now, which works primarily with low-income families of color, said he plans to attend the protest to learn more, but he also sees the district trying to be responsive to a worsening public health crisis.

“I think what we’re seeing in these protests is frustration come to a boil, and we have to be open to solutions,” he said.

Martinez agreed with the idea that families without resources are struggling more. At the same time, many of the families he works with have chosen remote learning because they live in multigenerational households or have risk factors for COVID. He said he supports all parents but cautioned against speaking on behalf of others.

“If you are not starting this with ‘I’ statements and you have not put in the work to spend time with parents, it is really dangerous,” he said.

Regardless of what happens with in-person learning, he believes the district could do more to support small learning pods and provide child care for families with fewer resources of their own.

Some families are still waiting for computers and internet, two months after the school year started, he said.

Read more: As more students head back, here’s what we now know (and still don’t) about schools and COVID spread

— Erica Meltzer

Westminster plans a two-week switch to remote learning

Westminster students will be learning remotely for the next two weeks, the district announced Wednesday night, citing a continuing rise in COVID transmission in the community.

District officials had said recently they were not considering a change to the in-person learning model, given that transmission within the schools has been low.

Outbreak data that the state updates weekly shows the district has a new outbreak at Ranum Middle School where three students have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The data also show a previous outbreak at Westminster High School with nine students and one staff member testing positive. That outbreak is among the largest reported in Colorado schools so far. 

The district’s own online dashboard shows more than 1,000 students, or more than 12% of the district’s students, are currently on quarantine. 

Westminster High School will begin remote learning Thursday, while the rest of the district will make the switch Monday.

The district announced it plans to have all students return to in-person learning Nov. 16 and that it is hopeful new restrictions in Adams County will reverse the upward trend.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping our students in the classroom,” the note, signed by Superintendent Pam Swanson, states. “If we all step up right now, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our students continue their education in an environment that is safe for them and WPS staff.”

The state moved Adams County to the second-highest level on the state’s color-coded dial framework this week, requiring several new restrictions on many businesses.

The city of Denver also moved to the same level on Tuesday, and the Denver district announced the same day that most students would go into remote learning starting Monday.

Read more: Rising COVID cases prompt Denver district to retreat from in-person learning for older elementary students

— Yesenia Robles

Oct. 26

All three metrics on Denver Public Schools’ COVID dashboard are red. Now what?

As of Monday evening, Denver Public Schools isn’t making any changes to in-person learning for elementary students, even as all three metrics on the district’s COVID dashboard have turned red.

Over the weekend, the metrics — cases per 100,000 residents, the percent increase in cases, and test positivity — all entered the red or most concerning zone on the district’s dashboard for the first time since the start of the school year.

District officials have said repeatedly that the dashboard does not represent a hard stop, but rather a sign that they should check in with public health officials. Members of the principals and teachers unions have asked the district to set a threshold at which the district would ask all or most students to learn remotely.

“As a school leader, you have teachers who are looking at those same metrics and now trying to think about whether or not they are safe,” said Cesar Rivera, principal at Samuels Elementary and co-president of the Denver School Leaders Association, the principals union. “Among those trying to consider whether they are safe are teachers with vulnerabilities, teachers who are cancer survivors, teachers and staff who are older. 

“As a school leader, I’m thinking about our school schedule and whether we’ll be able to run in-person learning. That’s the question we’re always thinking about. And I’m also a parent, and I have to really consider: Is sending him back to-in person learning what is best for him, with three red indicators?”

The district just completed the process of transitioning most elementary students back to the classroom last week. Middle and high school students are still learning remotely until at least Nov. 9.

Top district officials met Monday with Denver Public Health but didn’t arrive at any decisions. In-person learning continues for now.

“We are keeping a very close eye on it and talking with our educators about the best plan going forward,” district spokeswoman Winna MacLaren said.

— Erica Meltzer

Read more: Aurora sends students online as Adams County schools grapple with rise in cases

Oct. 23

Sheridan district goes online for at least one week

The tiny Sheridan district in southwest Denver will go online for at least one week starting Monday.

The district announced the change Friday as school districts around the Denver metro area grapple with rising numbers of COVID cases.

“Due to the multiple stringent safety strategies we implemented and based on our first quarter data, I am confident that there has been minimal spread of COVID in our schools,” Superintendent Pat Sandos wrote in a letter to all students and families. “However, I am deeply concerned with the significant amount of spread in our community.”

Sandos said the one-week break, which follows the district’s fall break, will allow for a “reset.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep you all informed,” he said.

The district opened with in-person and online options on Aug. 17.

— Erica Meltzer

Oct. 19

Adams 12 Five Star proposes moving middle and high school students back online, Aurora to keep high school students remote

Less than a month after bringing students back to the classroom, Adams 12 Five Star Schools may move its middle and high school students back to remote learning full time.

Meanwhile, Aurora Public Schools announced it would keep high school students remote at least until Nov. 16. A decision about younger students is coming Thursday.

Superintendents from both districts pointed to the rise in COVID cases across the region.

“Community transmission of COVID-19 continues to increase as high school students were set to return to in-person learning this week,” Superintendent Rico Munn said in a Facebook post Monday. “Considering high school students have not yet started in-person learning, we have made the difficult decision to delay the start of in-person learning for high school students.” 

Aurora Public Schools serves 37,000 students, more than 10,000 of them in high school.

Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski has asked his school board to approve the change to remote learning Wednesday. If the board agrees, the change would affect more than 20,000 students in the 37,000-student suburban district.

The move comes a week after Denver announced it would keep its middle and high school students remote at least until Nov. 9 and the neighboring Adams 14 district announced it would stay fully remote until the end of the calendar year. Cases are rising around the Denver metro area, with Adams County seeing the biggest increases.

Test positivity within the boundaries of the Adams 12 district is more than 10% over the last two weeks, and more than 11% in the Aurora district, which includes Adams and Arapahoe counties. The case rate is well over 300 per 100,000 residents in both districts, according to data from Tri-County Public Health. The non-binding dashboard that guides school opening decisions in the Denver metro area urges caution when test positivity is higher than 5% and case rates exceed 50 per 100,000.

The Adams 12 district pointed to frequent quarantines as a main reason to return to remote learning for most students in grades 6 to 12.

“One of the key priorities Superintendent Chris Gdowski has stressed this school year, in addition to safety and family needs, is providing efficiency through a learning model with greater predictability and consistency,” the Adams 12 district said in a message to the community. “The last few weeks have proven that, due to the rising cases and necessary quarantines, it is difficult for students, staff and families to maintain a consistent and productive learning environment under these current circumstances.”

Districts around the state have struggled with scheduling and quarantines for secondary students, who take more classes and interact with more people at school.

— Erica Meltzer

Oct. 15

Denver Public Schools offers free COVID testing to students

The Denver school district is expanding its COVID testing system in cooperation with Denver Health.

Over the summer, Denver Public Schools joined many districts around the state in offering free COVID testing to staff through COVIDCheck Colorado. That’s an enterprise of Gary Community Investments, which offers the tests at relatively low cost to districts.

The district announced Thursday that students who meet certain criteria — including having symptoms and being screened and recommended to get tested — will also be able to get tested for free.

Students who meet the criteria will be able to get same-day appointments and should be able to get test results in 24 hours.

District officials said they hope that making testing readily available to students will help them limit the spread of COVID in schools and in the community and assist with contact tracing.

“By providing testing to kids, we can prioritize them and thus prioritize a safe and successful environment for them to be in school,” Dr. Steve Federico, director general of pediatrics and school and community programs for Denver Health, said in the press release.

The testing locations are:

  • Federico F. Pena Southwest Family Health Center and Urgent Care
  • Lowry Family Health Center
  • Montbello Family Health Center
  • Rita Bass Trauma and EMS Education Institute

Denver Public Schools has opened its elementary schools to in-person learning, but most middle and high school students will remain remote until at least Nov. 9 as district officials and public health agencies monitor an increase in cases in the community.

A recently released district dashboard shows that as of Thursday 21 staff members and 34 students have tested positive so far, and nearly 400 people are in quarantine. One school, Smith Elementary, is temporarily closed after three people tested positive.

— Erica Meltzer

Oct. 12

As cases increase, Denver Public Schools takes a second look at its middle and high school plans

Confirmed COVID cases in Denver are now at their highest point since May, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and local public health officials warned residents the city could move backwards and impose more restrictions on businesses and events if the trajectory doesn’t change.

It’s unclear what that means for Denver Public Schools’ phased reopening.

Colorado’s largest school district started the school year remotely and began bringing back the youngest elementary students in mid-September, with most elementary students expected back in classrooms by late October.

Superintendent Susana Cordova said Monday that those plans will continue. Young students struggle the most with online learning, and educators fear students will face long-term consequences if they don’t get strong foundations in basic literacy and math skills.

But Denver administrators are meeting with the school board and local public health officials to see if the district’s plans for middle and high school students need to change. They are expected to make a decision later this week.

Already, many middle and high schools in Denver were planning to either remain remote or open school buildings while continuing to offer most instruction online. Middle and high school principals have said the district’s strict cohorting requirements, meant to limit the number of students who would have to quarantine if a student or staff member has COVID, present major scheduling challenges.

In a presentation to the school board Monday night, Dr. Bill Burman, director of Denver Public Health, reiterated that he believes it’s relatively safe to bring students back to school and that the greatest risk is that of frequent learning disruptions due to quarantine.

Even with most children still at home, cases of COVID among the school-aged population have risen in recent weeks, Burman said. Similar increases have occurred every time cases have risen in the community, with most children who contract the disease getting it from a family member. Cases among children are highest in southwest and northeast Denver, reflecting the heavy toll the disease has taken on Latino and African American communities.

The most recent increase in Denver started with a spike among college students at Regis University and the University of Denver. That led to more gradual increases among other age groups. Burman said the number of cases now is almost certainly far below the peak in the spring because testing was limited then. Nonetheless, he said the increase is concerning, and he repeated calls to improve mask wearing and reduce social gatherings.

Burman also said the city will be stepping up enforcement of public health orders.

Denver previously put stricter rules around colleges and universities. Members of the Alpha Phi sorority at the University of Denver have been issued a criminal summons on suspicion of gathering without proper social distancing and with multiple people with COVID-19 in attendance, according to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. Alpha Phi is one of seven Greek houses at the University of Denver to have a confirmed COVID outbreak.

– Erica Meltzer

Oct. 9

Polis makes masks available to teachers, school staff through Thanksgiving

Gov. Jared Polis announced this week that the state will continue to make medical-grade masks available to teachers and other school staff who work with students at least through Thanksgiving.

Colorado already provided more than 1.6 million KN-95 masks to school staff, the governor’s office said, enough for everyone who works with children to have one mask per week for the first 10 weeks of the school year.

For this second round of masks, the state is asking school districts, charter schools, and private schools to fill out an online request form by no later than Oct. 19.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the state has enough supply to provide masks for all school staff. However, some districts now have a good supply because they started the school year remotely and didn’t use all the masks from the first round. Some districts also have their own sources for masks. The department only wants to send masks to schools that want and need them to make good use of scarce resources.

Medical-grade masks are supposed to be changed every day. In a webinar last month organized by the Colorado Education Association, doctors recommended that teachers set aside one mask for each day of the week. By the time Monday rolls around, last week’s Monday mask can be used again.

Polis indicated on Friday that he plans to extend the state’s mask order, which requires anyone aged 11 or older, to wear a mask in public, indoor spaces, including school buildings.

— Erica Meltzer

Sept. 18

Denver gives parents of middle and high school students more time to make in-person decision

Denver Public Schools will give the parents and guardians of middle and high school students until the end of the day Wednesday to decide whether they want to remain online or send their children back to campus.

Parents are still waiting for information about what middle and high school will look like. Denver plans to bring elementary students back five days a week, while older students likely will follow some sort of hybrid model. District officials have said that many details will depend on how many students opt for in-person versus virtual.

The district said Friday that more information about secondary schools will go out later in the afternoon.

The deadline for elementary students is still this week, by the end of the day Friday.

Families that don’t make a decision will be automatically enrolled in the virtual option, the district said.

Charter schools may have their own deadlines and not fully follow the district plan.

Denver began planning to bring students back after seeing several weeks of encouraging trends in its COVID metrics. While test positivity and the rate of increase remain in the “green” territory, Denver has seen an increase in positive cases in the past week. District officials said they are working with Denver Health to monitor the situation.

– Erica Meltzer

Sept. 10

State provides new guidance on learning pods, waives certain child care rules

As families formed learning pods to help their children navigate remote learning, they may have run afoul of state requirements that people get a license if they’re offering child care in their home to more than four children at a time.

A new executive order signed Thursday by Gov. Jared Polis waives several licensing requirements that would normally apply to home day cares, in order to facilitate learning pods. That means families hosting students in their homes won’t have to worry about complaining neighbors, as long as the numbers remain relatively small.

The executive order suspends the requirement to get a home child care license if:

  • There are eight or fewer children aged 10 or older in a home or facility for the purpose of supporting a learning pod.
  • There are five or fewer children aged 6 to 9 in a home or facility for the purpose of supporting a learning pod.

The executive order also directs the Colorado Department of Human Services to give licensed child care centers flexibility to serve more children. Family child care providers could care for one additional school-aged child in their home and larger child care centers could care for two additional school-aged children compared with their normal cap. Child care providers could also get a waiver to not count their own children toward their cap.

At the same time, officials with the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Human Services released guidance for parents about learning pods that includes instructions for doing a background check on anyone supervising children and a request to register learning pods with the state.

The guidance urges parents to first look for licensed child care in the area before turning to unlicensed care.

“Licensed child care remains the best, safest option for children,” Mary Anne Snyder, director of the state’s Office of Early Childhood, said in a press release. “Licensed child care is inspected and rated by the state, and licensed programs must support children’s health and safety, ensure staff are well-trained and effective, ensure individuals complete comprehensive background checks, and provide a supportive learning environment.”

The guidance reminds parents to discuss emergency contacts, emergency evacuation and alternative pickup sites, discipline strategies, and how meals and snacks will be provided with their learning pod partners. It also provides tips for reducing the risk of COVID exposure within a learning pod.

— Erica Meltzer

Sept. 9

Adams 12 students could return to in-person learning by October

Elementary students in Adams 12 would return to full-time in-person instruction starting Oct. 1 if the school board approves the plan proposed by Superintendent Chris Gdowski on Thursday night. The plan calls for middle and high school students to return to school in a hybrid model, attending two days a week in person and working remotely three days a week. Any student wishing to continue with full-time remote learning would have that option.

While students opting for either in-person or hybrid instruction would officially start on Thursday, Oct. 1, schools would host in-person orientation session Monday through Wednesday that week.

Adams 12 students have been learning remotely for the last few weeks, though some elementary and middle school students are participating in district-run learning pods supervised by paraprofessionals or other non-teaching staff. There are two to three pods per grade level at all the district’s elementary, middle, and K-8 schools. Once in-person school resumes, pods would no longer be available.

— Ann Schimke

Sept. 2

Denver schools working to open free learning centers after Labor Day

Denver Public Schools could open free learning centers in some of its schools as early as next week. The learning centers would serve as a supervised space for students to do their remote learning, and each center could serve up to 10% of a school’s population, Superintendent Susana Cordova said at a press briefing Wednesday.

At smaller elementary schools, that could be just 25 or 30 students. At larger elementary schools, it could be 65 students. Big middle and high schools could serve even more.

The district is currently offering a paid option at 55 elementary schools. For $10 per day, families can send children ages 5 to 12 to be supervised from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. by staff from Denver’s after-school program, as well as from other community organizations.

But the district hasn’t offered a free option until now. Remote learning began in Denver on Aug. 24 and is expected to last until Oct. 16. However, Cordova has said the district is exploring bringing some elementary students back to school in person before then.

The free learning centers would be separate from that effort. Cordova said the centers would be supervised by Denver Public Schools staff, though she didn’t specify who.

She said schools would prioritize offering learning center spots to students who need reliable internet access, English language learners, students with disabilities, and young students who need help with remote learning.

Parents can expect to hear details about a learning center at their child’s school directly from their child’s principal, Cordova said.

Read more: Pods for all? Some districts and nonprofits are reimagining the remote learning trend

Melanie Asmar

Sept. 1

Change in federal regulations means more students can get free school meals

All Colorado children can get free meals at participating school sites this fall, after the federal government changed course on food service rules.

When Colorado school districts closed in the spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed them to serve all children and still get reimbursed for those meals. Families didn’t even have to attend a school in order to pick up food there. These summer meal program rules, invoked months early, were a key component of efforts to keep children from going hungry.

Those rules were set to expire at the end of August. Most Colorado school districts had said that without federal reimbursement, they would have to charge students for meals unless their families met income eligibility requirements.

That changed this week when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under pressure from school leaders and advocates, said it would extend the more generous summer food service rules through as late as December, depending on funding availability.

Find more information about food service rules here.

Read more: Why Colorado school districts are serving fewer meals during COVID-19 closures

— Erica Meltzer

Aug. 28

Denver Public Schools considers earlier return for some elementary students

Based on current public health conditions, Denver Public Schools may bring back some elementary students earlier than originally planned, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Friday in an email to parents.

Denver is holding classes remotely through the end of the first quarter Oct. 16. Cordova made that decision in July when many public health officials were sounding the alarm over the rate of increase in COVID cases. Since then, the number of new cases each day and the percentage of people testing positive have both declined.

Earlier this week the district announced plans to bring preschool students back to school buildings in September. Cordova has also said the district might bring back students who are considered especially vulnerable, including those with disabilities who rely on school-based services and those in the earliest stages of learning English, before October.

But on Friday, she indicated the district is considering a broader return for elementary students. Younger children are at less risk of serious illness and may transmit the virus less efficiently than older children. It’s also harder to meet their needs through online instruction.

In her email, Cordova pointed to the “stoplight metrics” developed by metro area public health agencies to guide reopening decisions. Denver remains between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000 residents, a yellow rating that calls for cautious monitoring, but the rate of increase in new cases in the last two weeks, as well as test positivity, are both rated green.

“Based on our consultation with Denver Health on where the stoplight metrics are today, we believe that we can move forward with a gradual return of more students, particularly at the younger grades,” she wrote. “We will be engaging with our school leaders and educators on what that might look like and potential timing of an earlier return for some students.”

“Through our ongoing collaboration with our school leaders and teachers, we’ve heard from many educators and parents a strong desire to begin offering in-person school for all elementary grades,” Cordova continued. “This is where the remote-learning challenges are the greatest, and we need to make sure we’re maximizing academic growth and whole-child support for our youngest learners, while following all health and safety guidelines.”

Cordova said the color-coded ratings won’t determine on their own whether schools open or close but will guide conversations with public health officials.

Details about which students might return to the classroom and when are still to be determined.

“I know we’re all eager to have our school buildings open and our classrooms buzzing again,” Cordova wrote. “We truly appreciate your continued patience and flexibility as we’ve worked together to ensure we’re using health and safety standards to guide all of our reopening decisions.”

Read more: Open or close? Proposed guide would help Denver metro school districts use data to decide.

— Erica Meltzer

Aug. 21

Cherry Creek bars students from campus over mask violations

On the first day that students were back at Cherry Creek High School, a large group gathered on the grounds and took pictures with friends that they posted to Instagram. In many of the pictures, the students can be seen embracing and leaning on each other. They’re not wearing masks.

Their friends weren’t the only ones checking out their pictures. #suspended, some of the students soon wrote in the comments.

A spokesperson for the Cherry Creek district said the students — 41 in all — were not “suspended” but told to stay home for a week “because of the potential exposure.” More typically, people are told to quarantine for two weeks after a potential exposure.

The students missed one day of instruction, since this was a phase-in week for Cherry Creek students, with one grade level in the building each day. They will be allowed to attend class on Monday.

The students were also issued first mask violations. Multiple violations will result in students being transferred to online school, according to district policy.

“The action taken was out of a concern for health and safety and was based in district protocols around COVID,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Read more: Virtual suspensions. Mask rules. More trauma. Why some worry a student discipline crisis is on the horizon

— Erica Meltzer

Weld County school district warns students against coming to school while awaiting test results

After sending 11 staff members and 37 students home to quarantine due to possible COVID exposure, a Weld County school district is threatening to suspend students who come to school while waiting for test results.

The Weld Re-4 district based in Windsor brought students back to school this week. On Monday, a district spokeswoman said school was going well, and students seemed to be doing a good job following the rules. On Friday, the district announced that 48 people at Windsor Middle School would have to stay home until Sept. 10 after a student tested positive. The students will have learn online.

The district said it had added COVID testing to its discipline policy. Students who test positive for COVID or who are waiting for test results and who come to school without disclosing that information could be subject to suspension or expulsion.

“As you know, we are trying our best to keep our doors open and students learning in person without disruption for as long as possible,” the district said. “Given that goal, moving forward if your child is awaiting a COVID-19 test, he or she must stay home until you receive the results.”

Read more: New Colorado quarantine guidance would allow more students to stay in school

— Erica Meltzer

Aug. 19

About 15% of Denver teachers request to work remotely

In many school districts, teachers who more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 — or who live with someone who is — can request an accommodation to teach remotely from home.

That’s the case in Denver Public Schools, and Superintendent Susana Cordova on Wednesday said that as of last week, nearly 700 teachers, 32 principals, and about 400 other in-school staff members had requested to work remotely instead.

Denver has about 4,800 teachers, meaning about 15% requested an accommodation.

Cordova said last week that about 30% of Denver students had requested to learn 100% remotely. But students’ decision isn’t binding; families are able to change their minds.

Denver starts school Monday, though instruction will be remote for everyone until at least Oct. 16. After that, the district may reopen campuses for in-person learning.

Read more: Denver Public Schools will extend remote learning through mid October

— Melanie Asmar

Aug. 14

Teachers in Sheridan walk out, ask for delay to the first day of school

Sheridan teachers took to the streets Friday afternoon, just before classes are set to start Monday, in protest of what they say are unsafe conditions.

The district had teachers in school buildings this week and last as it prepares for students to return. On Monday one teacher, who had no symptoms, had already tested positive for COVID-19 and went on quarantine along with another staff member who was exposed. A district spokesman said the teacher has now tested negative, but is still saying home as a precaution.

Ashley Richter, communicable disease epidemiologist manager for Tri-County Public Health, said that the process of working with Sheridan went well. The agency also worked this week with Mapleton Public Schools where a teacher there also tested positive.

Both districts are planning for in-person learning in the next couple of weeks, and staff have begun going into school buildings to prepare.

“I don’t think we’re surprised by this,” Richter said. “People are out moving around in the community. So I don’t think that these couple of cases that we’re seeing trigger any change for us. That’s not to say additional positives wouldn’t.”

But not much has calmed fears among teachers this week.

“We feel that cases are inevitable and we are getting that same message from the district,” said Matt Blomquist, teacher and union president in the district. “Our question is why then are we doing this?”

He said teachers are asking the Sheridan school district to stagger the beginning of the school year, starting with a two-week delay, and said that the union resorted to Friday’s walkout after being unable to negotiate changes to specific safety concerns.

For its part, the district put out a statement this week, after a rowdy school board meeting, where it reiterated its plans to start classes Monday. The district detailed safety measures it has put in place such as providing masks, gaiters and face shields for students and staff, and installing touchless water fountains at the high school. 

Read more: Limiting class sizes and alternating older students in the buildings, Sheridan plans on a hybrid return to schools

— Yesenia Robles

Aug. 11

Little less than a third of Denver families opting for virtual learning so far

Denver Public Schools is offering families two choices this fall: 100% virtual learning, or an in-person option that will actually start remotely. Though not all families have indicated their preference yet, Superintendent Susana Cordova said Tuesday that about 30% of families have said they prefer 100% virtual learning.

Read more: Hybrid, remote, or in person? Colorado back-to-school plans carry big trade-offs

Cordova noted that the choice isn’t binding for families, meaning they can change their minds once school starts. That’s a change from a previous requirement that families make a binding decision in August for the first quarter of the school year.

School is scheduled to start in Denver on Aug. 24. All students will learn remotely until at least Oct. 16, when the district will evaluate whether to reopen school campuses. Cordova said local public health officials are working on metrics to determine if doing so is safe.

Read more: Q&A: What families should know about Denver Public Schools’ fall plans

School buildings may reopen sooner than Oct. 16 to small groups of students who would benefit the most from in-person instruction, including preschool students, students with disabilities, and students learning English as a second language, Cordova has said.

On Tuesday, she said the district is also working on setting up “learning centers” at its schools. The idea is similar to what the Adams 12 Five Star district is offering through its free “learning pods”: a supervised place for students to do their virtual learning.

Read more: Pods for all? Some districts and nonprofits are reimagining the remote learning trend

— Melanie Asmar

Aug. 4

Four school districts in northern Colorado change plans, will start remotely

Citing concerns about rising cases in the community and the long wait to get test results, four more Colorado school districts announced Tuesday that they’ll start the school year with online learning.

They are: Boulder Valley, St. Vrain Valley, Poudre, and Thompson.

“The way we prevent outbreaks in our schools is to test, trace, and isolate,” Tom Gonzales, Larimer County public health director, said in a message to families in the Loveland-based Thompson district. “We are seeing a substantial delay in COVID-19 test results from all clinical labs, including the state lab. For contact tracing to be effective, we must obtain timely test results within 2-3 days.

“With cases continuing to rise, counties across the state will struggle to conduct timely contact tracing with this delay in results. This is a state-wide problem that has caused us to reassess our school reopening plans.”

The Thompson school district plans to do online learning at least through Oct. 16. So will the Fort Collins-based Poudre district, also in Larimer County.

The Boulder Valley and St. Vrain districts both pointed to concerning information from Boulder County’s health department that cases are rising in the community. Boulder Valley will remain remote until at least through Sept. 22. St. Vrain, based in Longmont and spanning Boulder and Weld counties, will also remain remote through the end of September.

In a message to the community, St. Vrain Superintendent Don Haddad said continued uncertainty about the role of children in spreading the coronavirus and the large number of parents, teachers, and others raising safety concerns also weighed on his decision.

“Given the significant shift in information and the unrest that exists at this time, we do not believe that an in-person learning model would be conducive to learning and/or physical and emotional well-being,” he wrote.

– Erica Meltzer

Aug. 3

Denver Public Schools joins districts offering COVID testing to staff

The Denver district will be among those working with Gary Community Investments to make frequent testing for COVID-19 available to employees.

Denver is currently planning a remote start to the school year, with classes for most students to remain virtual at least through Oct. 16. However, some students, including preschool students and students with disabilities who depend on in-person services, may return to school buildings after Labor Day if public health conditions allow.

The testing program would be available to staff working in schools. It would allow Denver district employees to get tested roughly every two weeks, even if they don’t have symptoms, and get results within 72 hours.

Positive results would be reported to public health authorities and prompt quarantine procedures to limit the spread of the virus.

In a press release, district officials said the program, COVIDCheck Colorado, also allows employees and families to report symptoms to a tracking website every morning. The website in turn may recommend that certain people stay home that day or seek testing.

Certain officials would have access to the data from the tracking website and could use it to watch for possible outbreaks, the district said.

— Erica Meltzer

July 30

Polis: Going back to school is ‘reasonably safe’

The day after Denver Public Schools said it would hold classes remotely at least through mid October, Gov. Jared Polis said going back to school is as safe as going to the grocery store or to any other job.

“All the work that Coloradans have put into keep our viral transmission rate low is why it’s safer to open schools in Colorado,” he said. “It is reasonably safe. Many schools are opening. ... There are districts that for their own reasons are delaying a decision and beginning out virtually.

“I think the hard work of Coloradans is what has led to the environment where unlike parts of Texas or much of Florida, it’s reasonably safe to open schools, just as it’s reasonably safe to go to the grocery store, it’s reasonably safe to go to work.”

Polis added that his own children will be going back to school.

Polis made the comments two days after he called on Coloradans “not to be stupid” as the state tries to flatten a coronavirus trajectory that public health officials have said could overwhelm hospitals as soon as September.

Colorado districts that are starting the school year remotely — which include Denver, Jeffco, Aurora, Adams 14, Roaring Fork, and Pueblo 70 — have said they made the decision in large part due to the rate of transmission in the community. In some cases, school districts in the same county have come to different conclusions about returning to school, and the state has not issued firm guidelines.

Polis did not elaborate Thursday on the metrics he was using for school safety, though he did say he expects the impact of a statewide mask mandate and closing bars to show up as a reduction in new cases soon.

The rate of positive COVID tests in Colorado has hovered just under 5% in recent weeks. That’s a threshold many public health experts look to when weighing reopening decisions, though it wasn’t developed specifically with schools in mind.

Earlier this month, spokesman Conor Cahill said the state doesn’t have “one bright line” that determines when it’s safe to open schools and that these decisions would largely be made locally. Asked for clarification on Thursday, Cahill said the governor and public health officials “are constantly evaluating and open to new metrics that may be able to help with these important decisions,” but he did not provide any specifics.

— Erica Meltzer

Three more districts join effort to provide free COVID testing to staff

Three Adams County school districts announced plans Thursday to provide free COVID-19 testing for their employees every two weeks through a partnership with a Denver-based philanthropic organization.

Mapleton, Westminster, and the Brighton-based District 27J will all receive testing and contract tracing services through “COVIDCheck Colorado,” an effort recently launched by Gary Community Investments. A fourth district, Aurora Public Schools, announced plans to use the service earlier this month. 

Through the partnership, district employees will have access to COVID-19 testing before they return to the classroom, as well as every two weeks thereafter — with results in 72 hours or less. Staff can also get tested in the interim if they show symptoms.

The service will be optional for employees. To sign up, they must sign waivers that, among other things, will give districts access to the results. 

Plans for reopening schools vary among districts participating in COVIDCheck. Mapleton and Westminster will both offer in-person learning for all grades five days a week this fall. District 27J will offer in-person instruction for elementary students and a hybrid model that includes alternating days of in-person and remote instruction for secondary students. Aurora will start with remote learning for most students, with in-person instruction for small groups of high-needs students, such as those with special needs or who are learning English.

Gary officials said school districts will pay about $10 per test through COVIDCheck, compared to $100-200 per test on the open market.

Read more: Aurora school staff will have access to regular free testing this fall

— Ann Schimke

July 28

Adams 14 students will start the school year online

The Adams 14 school district is following several other districts in planning to start school online next month.

The school board approved a resolution for a remote-only start to the school year Tuesday evening. Students will continue in remote learning through the first quarter, which ends Oct. 7. 

Adams 14 had not previously released a formal plan, but had suggested that in-person learning was most likely. The district was scheduled to be the first in the metro area to start classes in just two weeks. The school year now will start on Aug. 24. 

Don Rangel, the acting superintendent for Adams 14, said details on the start of the school year will be published Wednesday and Thursday.

The resolution was not part of the posted agenda for the special meeting, but was added in at the start of the meeting. There was little discussion during the public meeting. The board however, had met in private for more than an hour prior to the public meeting.

Board members said they thought the plan was best to keep students, staff, and families safe.

“This is the safest option for right now,” said board member Maria Zubia. “Moving forward it will be evaluated.”

Several board members said their own families have been impacted by the virus, and board members gave their condolences to board member Regina Hurtado for the loss of a family member to COVID-19.

— Yesenia Robles

Another Denver charter network will remain remote until at least October

The STRIVE Prep charter network in Denver will remain remote until at least Oct. 16. In an announcement to families, charter leaders pointed to the high rate of community transmission in Denver. They said that making a decision now would provide more certainty for teachers and families.

“We believe that making a decision now that the academic program will be delivered remotely for the first quarter allows our teachers to plan the best possible program for your children, and allows you to plan thoughtfully without uncertainty for what is to come,” the announcement said.

— Erica Meltzer

July 27

DSST charter network will stay remote until at least mid-October

Students in Denver Public Schools’ district-run schools will be learning remotely at least until Labor Day. Students in the DSST charter network, meanwhile, will be remote until at least mid-October.

Bill Kurtz, CEO and founder of the Denver-based charter network, made the announcement in an email to parents Monday morning. Kurtz said three factors drove the decision: growing evidence that students older than 10 can transmit the virus as well as adults, desire to create a definitive plan for the start of the school year, and the need to start planning now to improve the remote learning experience.

“We could not see a way to constructively teach students [in person] and keep the community safe,” Kurtz wrote in the email.

Kurtz said he doesn’t believe public health models will provide more clarity about the safety of returning in early September, and he wants to provide more certainty for teachers, students, and parents.

DSST serves almost 6,000 students in nine middle schools and six high schools. Most of the schools are in Denver, and one is in Aurora. Students in the Denver schools will learn remotely until at least Oct. 21, the return from the fall break, while students in the Aurora school would return Oct. 12 in accordance with that district’s plan. Charter schools have flexibility to set their own calendars.

Kurtz also said that unlike the Denver district, DSST will not require families to commit to in-person or remote learning through December. Instead, families will be able to choose a remote option at any time.

— Erica Meltzer

July 25

Douglas County schools will start the year on a hybrid schedule

Students in the Douglas County School District will attend school just two days a week and learn from home the other three, the school board decided at a special meeting Saturday.

The decision comes as districts around the state are reassessing their back-to-school plans in light of rising cases of the coronavirus. Denver, Jeffco, and Aurora have all announced their intentions to start the school year remotely.

School starts Aug. 17 in Douglas County. Douglas County’s hybrid plan applies to all students starting in preschool.

Douglas County is one of 15 Colorado counties at risk of losing its variance that allows more business activity if case counts don’t come down soon. Douglas County elected officials have often been at odds with state and local public health officials over coronavirus restrictions.

More information about the district’s plan is available here.

Read more: Aurora students will learn virtually for their first quarter this fall

— Erica Meltzer

July 23

Polis: A surge of coronavirus testing will follow school-based outbreaks

During a press conference Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis said if there are coronavirus outbreaks at schools this fall, a surge of testing would take place — either in a specific cohort of students or the entire school. 

While state officials are still developing specific protocols for school-based outbreaks, he said the goal would be immediate testing spearheaded by the local public health department. He said such testing surges have already happened at other facilities with outbreaks — for example, a Buena Vista prison where 1,200 tests were administered earlier this month. 

“There will be site-based outbreaks at schools, like there is in any type of building or office,” Polis said. 

In addition to testing, keeping students in consistent groups — known as cohorts — will also play a role in limiting virus spread and preventing schoolwide building closures, he said.  

One isolated outbreak with rapid testing, he said, might mean “Mrs. McGillicuddy’s fourth grade class stays home for two weeks,” but other classes can continue as usual.

— Ann Schimke

July 21

Aurora teachers voice concerns over returning to buildings

During a special board meeting Tuesday night, the leaders of the Aurora teachers union presented survey results showing high levels of staff concern about the district’s plans to return to in-person learning.

According to the presentation, 1,042 district staff members responded to the union’s survey, representing more than two-thirds of its membership. Of those respondents, upwards of 75% had moderate or high levels of concern about the coming school year. 

Aurora’s current plan is to return elementary and middle school students to class full time. High schools, meanwhile, would operate at 50% capacity, with ninth- and 10th-graders attending school in the morning and 11th- and 12th-graders coming in the afternoon. 

At all levels, the plan relies heavily on the idea of creating cohorts, or groups of students and staff who interact with each other but not with other cohorts at the school.  

Peter Zola, another union member, also pointed out that the survey showed that a high number of staff members are worried about family members at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications. 

Zola said the district’s survey asks staff about their own health conditions, but not about those of other family or household members. In the union survey, 47% of staff said they had a health risk themselves or were concerned about a family member’s risk. 

Superintendent Rico Munn said at the meeting that so far 6.3% of staff respondents have asked for remote assignments based on their vulnerability.

Union leaders said they want more of a role in crafting the fall plans. They have several questions and some specific requests, including some that may have already been addressed by district’s planning teams, but that haven’t yet been communicated to staff.

Munn on Tuesday proposed that the board adopt a monitoring position setting up a pre-condition for allowing the in-person learning plan to move forward. Under that scenario, if both Adams and Arapahoe counties weren’t downgraded from the state’s “high” risk category by Aug. 3, the district would switch to another model to start the school year.

School board members had questions about the monitoring plan. Some of them were uncomfortable proceeding with the in-person plan even for two more weeks, and in the end, no decision was made. The discussion will continue Friday afternoon at another special meeting.

Read more: Colorado teachers union seeks remote start to school

— Yesenia Robles

July 20

Jeffco teachers ask for school year to start remotely, not in classrooms

The Jeffco teachers union released a statement Monday asking the school district to turn back on its plan to start classes next month with students in school buildings full time.

“While Jeffco educators would like to see school return to normal as much as parents and students do, we have a responsibility to speak up for our school and community safety,” said Brooke Williams, president of the Jefferson County Education Association. “The start of school should be online or be postponed until broader conditions improve and JCEA and Jeffco Schools can come together to agree on how to respond to rapidly changing COVID conditions.”

Last week, the Denver school district cancelled its previous plan to bring students back to school in person by the end of August. Instead, the largest school district in the state will start the school year online.

Read more: U-turn: Denver reverts to virtual learning to start the school year

According to the Jeffco union’s statement, their own survey shows that a “vast majority of Jeffco educators” would not feel safe returning to in-person learning “without extensive measures to try to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

The survey results, which were not provided in full, show that only 5% of respondents would feel moderately safe without enhanced measures. 

The union survey also found 40% of educators reporting underlying conditions that put them at higher risk.

“Far more educators are likely to request online assignments than are available which will leave the district in the position of trying to decide whose health and safety is protected and whose is not,” the statement reads.

Cases of COVID-19 in Jeffco, like in much of the state, are trending up again.

Read more: ‘I’d like to live to teach another day:’ Denver, Jeffco teachers react to reopening schools

— Yesenia Robles

‘Nothing magical’ about 6 feet: New Colorado school guidance clears way for larger class sizes, more in-person instruction

Colorado elementary schools can open with normal class sizes under new state guidance that emphasizes local flexibility and a “layered” approach to safety that doesn’t depend on strict social distancing.

The guidance, issued Monday by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, calls on schools to use a combination of masks, home health screenings, proper ventilation, and the creation of cohorts — groups of students and adults that only interact with each other — to open safely while the coronavirus continues to circulate in the community.

While schools should try to allow space for people to spread out, including holding classes outside where feasible, they will not be required to maintain 6 feet of distance among younger children — 3 feet is acceptable. The guidance says that older students, who are more likely to transmit the disease to others and to suffer health complications themselves, should maintain more distance, with any caps on class size dependent on the size of rooms

“We know that we won’t be able to eliminate all risk, and we’re honest about that,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner. “We hope with layered risk protections, we can have a safe environment.”

Read the full story here.

— Erica Meltzer

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