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

Student Siyere Hill works on a computer at Denver’s Columbine Elementary in October 2019. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Updated on Aug. 5.

Fall plans for Denver Public Schools have changed several times this summer, as coronavirus cases went down, then up again. We know it can be hard for families to keep track of it all, so we’ve compiled some questions and answers below. 

Do you have a question about what school will look like this fall? Please email us at co.tips@chalkbeat.org and we’ll do our best to answer it. We’ll keep adding questions and answers to this story, so feel free to check back frequently.

Do you have opinions about Denver’s fall plans that you’d like to share with Chalkbeat journalists? Please fill out our short survey, available in English and Spanish.

When is school scheduled to start in Denver?

Most classes are scheduled to start Aug. 24. (Denver charter schools, and some district-run innovation schools, can set their own calendars, so check with your school.)

But Superintendent Susana Cordova said during a recent Facebook Live Q&A that students should expect to hear from their teachers the week of Aug. 17 for a one-on-one check-in. The check-ins will likely be virtual, but Cordova said the district is developing safety protocols for teachers and students who want to meet in person.

What will the first day of school look like?

It will be online, not in person. Given that COVID cases were rising in July, the district decided to start school remotely in August and gradually transition to in-person classes.

When will schools reopen for in-person classes?

There is no set date. The earliest would be Oct. 19 — though small groups of students could attend school in person earlier if virus conditions improve, Cordova said.

What will determine if schools reopen?

The district hasn’t yet announced the specific metrics that would trigger a reopening. Cordova noted the state uses a two-week infection rate to determine which safety protocols should be in place. She said local public health officials are working to come up with a framework that would help the district decide when it’s safe to reopen schools. 

What decisions do parents and guardians have to make before school starts?

Parents and guardians are being asked to choose one of two options for their children: 100% remote learning, or a combination of remote and in-person learning.

When do parents and guardians have to make that choice?

They are being asked to make the choice when they register their children for the school year, before the first day of school. Registration is open now.

Are families locked in to that choice all year?

No. The selection families make in August is non-binding.

It’s likely the district will ask families to choose again later this fall. If virus conditions improve to the point where the district plans to reopen school campuses in mid-October, Cordova said families will have another opportunity to select whether they want to send their children to school in person or continue learning remotely.

That’s a change from a previous plan that locked families into their choice for at least the first semester. Now families will be able to change their minds.

What will the difference be between the 100% virtual option and the in-person option that starts remotely?

There won’t be much of a difference at first since all students, regardless of which option their family chooses, will be learning online.

One potential difference could be your child’s teacher. For students who choose the 100% virtual option, district officials have said they will “make every effort” to match students with teachers from their school. But they can’t guarantee it. At the least, students will be matched with a teacher from the same region of the city.

Students who choose the in-person option will be matched with a teacher from their school. They’ll have online lessons with that teacher until the district reopens school campuses, at which point the teacher will provide in-person instruction.

What will a typical day look like under each option?

Under remote learning, students can expect to log onto their computers at a certain time each day and receive three hours of real-time instruction from their teacher or teachers, Cordova said. The real-time instruction will likely happen in the morning, and teachers may be available to offer extra help in the afternoon, she said.

Teachers will also likely record their lessons so that students who can’t log on at the appointed time can watch the lessons later, Cordova said.

That protocol will be the same for students who choose the 100% virtual option and those who choose in-person learning but start the year remotely.

If or when some students go back to school in person, the school day will look different than normal. Some key differences: Students would undergo a health screening at the door. They would be required to wear masks and wash or sanitize their hands every several hours. They would eat lunch in their classrooms to avoid mixing classes.

Other details were laid out in a draft reopening plan that was leaked to the public. District officials emphasized that the information in the draft plan is not final.

Cordova said at a recent press briefing that it’s likely middle and high school students would return to school on a hybrid schedule with a mix of in-person and remote learning, while elementary school students would attend school in person five days a week. Other metro area districts are taking a similar approach.

How many students will be in my child’s class?

It depends. State guidance released in July allows for normal class sizes in elementary schools right now. Class sizes in middle and high schools should be limited to allow physical distancing between students, the guidance says.

It’s also not clear how many students would be allowed to mix across classes. A previous Denver plan would have capped at 60 the number of other students an elementary student could interact with. For middle and high school students, the cap would have been 120 other students. But Cordova said local health officials and district officials decided in July that those caps were too high to reopen safely in August.

What happens if I send my child to school and someone in their class gets COVID?

Under state quarantine guidelines, your child would likely have to learn from home for at least 14 days if anyone in their class tests positive for COVID or seems likely to have COVID based on symptoms.

Your child would not join the 100% virtual program; rather, their learning would take place online with their teacher and classmates. Remote instruction would begin the next day, said district spokesperson Will Jones. 

What happens if a teacher gets COVID? Who will teach my child’s class?

If a teacher gets sick with COVID — or any other illness — schools will follow the contingency plans they’ve developed, which could include using substitute teachers, Jones said.

What happens if coronavirus cases surge in Denver?

District officials said they have developed plans for three scenarios depending on virus conditions: 100% virtual learning, in-person learning, and a hybrid of the two. 

We explained the first two scenarios above. If the district switches to a hybrid model, the students whose families chose the virtual option would stay virtual. The students whose families chose in-person learning would switch from attending school in person five days a week to attending two or three days per week, and learning remotely the other days.

Schools would follow an “AA/BB” schedule, a district plan says: One group of students would attend on two consecutive A days, while another group would attend on two consecutive B days.

The fifth day of the week would be reserved for students with disabilities, those in the early stages of learning English, and any other students who need extra help. Siblings would be assigned to the same A or B group to make it easier for families.

Do preschool families have the same options?

No. The district will offer in-person preschool once district officials deem it safe to reopen school campuses to small groups of students, as per the framework being developed by public health officials. That could be sooner than Oct. 19, Cordova said.

In the meantime, teachers might send families lists of activities for their children to do at home. The district will not offer virtual preschool for the fall semester.

Families will pay preschool tuition only when campuses are open.

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